February has much to recommend it. Trees laid bare by the winter months are having their final rest before they burst forth with growth and new blooms.
The light, though sometimes grey and low in the sky, reminds us that the earth is still rotating, as it always does.
Many of us are enjoying the simpler things after the excesses of Christmas; walks, new promises or beginnings, and planning for times of enjoyment in the year ahead.
Some of us, though, find this time of year challenging. Months of shorter days, cold weather, and a natural inclination to cocoon ourselves away.
It’s not that unusual to hear people say that they would prefer to hibernate.
Whatever your perspective on this time of year, it is a time when we would all benefit from being a bit more attentive to our mental health.
It can be helpful to give some thought to, and make provision for, our own specific needs as we face the year ahead.
How do we do that? A little planning can go a long way and there are lots of helpful actions and behaviours which will impact positively on your mood.
Try some of these and see how you get on.
1. Try to get out for some fresh air and exercise every day, even for 10 minutes of your lunch break. The combination of natural light and exercise is hugely beneficial to mental wellbeing.
Exercise releases endorphins in the body which have a positive effect on our mood. And try to incorporate more activity into your usual routine, such as choosing the stairs instead of the lift when you can.
2. Staying connected is really important. Make plans to keep in touch with friends and relatives; when one occasion has passed, plan the next one and put it in your diary.
Aim for at least one catch-up each week, and if money is an issue, think of low-cost/no-cost ways to meet, such as a walk in the park, or a cuppa at your house.
3. Plan something – which is realistic and achievable – to look forward to each day, no matter how small it is. Even if that is an extra five minutes in the morning to sit down and savour the warmth of that first cup of tea.
4. Acknowledge what is going well for you. Even on a bad day, there will be good moments; acknowledge them. A helpful action is to get into the habit of recording three good moments from each day in a notebook before you go to bed at night.
Try to make one related to an achievement during the day (that could be the smallest thing, but worth noting especially on a difficult day). Note one related to pleasure (something that you did today that was enjoyable for you).
And try to make one relating to closeness, a connection you had with someone today – a nice conversation or meeting a friend.
5. Start each day with a good breakfast. Diet is really important for mental health and wellbeing.
6. Help yourself to sleep well. Prepare for bedtime, leave electronic devices out of the bedroom and avoid watching stimulating programmes, like horror movies or serious documentaries, before bed.
It is also helpful to avoid tea and coffee in the evening time as both are stimulants and can disrupt sleep.
7. Watch out for unhelpful thoughts: these can lead to altered feelings and unhelpful behaviours. Try to ‘catch’ these thoughts and remind yourself that they are just that – thoughts.
If you are experiencing low mood talk to someone you trust and let them know how you are feeling. If depression might be a factor, it is important to discuss with your GP and seek professional advice and support.
Depression is very common with an estimated 450,000 people in Ireland – one in ten – affected. It impacts thoughts, feelings, energy, sleep and self-esteem.
Although it can be an isolating condition, it is treatable and it is absolutely possible to recover. There are a range of treatment options available and your GP is best placed to advise.
Aware offers a range of information, self-help tips and support services which can be helpful for people who are dealing with depression, bipolar disorder, or related conditions. See www.aware.ie.
In addition to a support group which meets weekly in Mullingar, at the 1428 Club, 2 Harbour Street, (red brick house across road from Kerrigans) every Thursday, 7.30-9pm.
The organisation also offers: a support line 1800 80 48 48 (Freephone) – Seven days a week, 10am-10pm; and the Aware support mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.