Today is Suicide Prevention Day and I was listening to a representative of Pieta House being interviewed this morning. He said that September and October are particularly difficult months generally, and this year they have already seen a surge in calls throughout the lockdown period.
He didn’t have a theory as to why September and October were harder, but I do. It’s something I noticed in myself a long, long time ago. When the days got shorter, my motivation slipped and I developed a tendency for withdrawal.
Seasonal Adjustment Disorder sounds innocuous enough. But left untended, it can lead to more serious depression. And depression can be fatal…more fatal than COVID.
Regardless of what the weather brings, this coming autumn and winter promises to be tough on us all. If you’ve experienced anxiety and depression before you may already have some great tools to help manage and prevent depressive episodes.
However, if you’re lucky enough never to have had an ongoing bout of dark days, don’t make the mistake of assuming it’s not in your nature and that you’re safe from this particular illness.
Our life circumstances can change in the blink of an eye, leaving us reeling and scrambling for our mental and emotional wellbeing. Break-ups, job loss, death of a loved one (all forms of bereavement) are just some of the expected triggers for mental health issues.
However, many physical conditions can also lower our mental and emotional resilience, so it’s always important to be vigilant and proactive, and never take our wellbeing for granted.
Here in the northern hemisphere, the most severe parts of lockdown were more tolerable for those of us with outdoor spaces. And as things eased we were able to socialise to a degree, especially outdoors. As we move in to autumn and winter, meeting up with others outside our homes is going to be more challenging. So this year, more than ever, it’s especially important that we’re all taking care of our mental health.
Don’t wait until you notice your mood starting to slip, as it takes a greater effort when you’re feeling low to implement mood-boosting strategies. Start now to develop some strong habits that will see you through the colder, darker months ahead.
Following are just a few suggestions to help you be proactive about your mental health:
If not already physically active, think about what kinds of exercise you could begin to build into your daily routines. It’s important that you choose something that you enjoy, or imagine that you would enjoy. If even the idea of it feels like a chore, then it’ll stay on your to-do list and never actually become part of your regular routine.
Start putting dates in your diary for these activities, even if you’re going to be doing them alone. If you’ll need a buddy for any of them, message them now for days and times that work for both of you.
Take Vitamin D daily. The Irish population in general is deficient in this vital nutrient. Not only does it boost immunity, it also helps to keep depression at bay. I always take it from autumn through to spring, and this year I continued throughout the summer months too.
Get honest about the overall quality of your diet and commit to improving it. Are there some food groups you need to decrease, and others you need to increase? Without being overly punitive, how can you start to make improvements?
The food we consume affects the hormones that are secreted in our bodies, which in turn affect our mood. Instead of focusing on weight loss (unless that has been medically identified as a serious issue that needs urgent attention), focus on aligning what you eat with what effects you want to feel on the mental and physical levels.
Adopt practices such as meditation and yoga that are proven to help alleviate anxiety and stress, and boost wellbeing on all levels. These practices help us to release accumulated stresses from our minds and bodies. And meditation helps us to develop a self awareness that can alter the relationship we have with previously stress-inducing situations and experiences. It helps to foster resilience, so that when things do get tough we are able to cope better.
Work with a counsellor. You don’t need to be severely unwell and referred by your GP before you begin that process. We all have issues that could benefit from being worked through under the supervision of a qualified professional. It would be great if we could remove the stigma associated with this and make “therapy” as normal a part of life as attending a physio.
Build simple daily rituals in to your life. You can turn the most mundane activities into a joyful and restful experience by taking a mindful approach to it. The easiest way to start this would be with your morning cuppa. Whether it’s coffee, tea, chai or cacao, be fully present to all the steps in the brewing as well as to every sip. Try to have an easy evening ritual too, ensuring that twice during the day you take a few minutes to indulge in some quiet and pleasurable me-time.
Explore what works well for you and pay attention to your mental and emotional wellbeing. Tweak your lifestyle as you go until you find routines that stick for you and are effective.
All of the above are suggestions for preventing a slip into poor mental health. If you are already experiencing anxiety or depression, or you suspect someone close to you is, then it’s time to reach out for help without delay.
Talk to your doctor, a person you trust, or contact one of the following organisations:
Pieta House – offering support to people self-harming or suicidal.
Aware – providing support to people experiencing anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder.
The Samaritans – supporting people going through a difficult time, including anxiety, depression, suicidal feelings.
If you have further suggestions you’d like to share, please do so in the comments. I’d be delighted to hear them.
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