Right now many are facing what feels like a perfect storm, with three major challenges culminating: the approaching holiday season, reduced daylight hours resulting in risk for symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder… and on top of those stressors which happen annually, this year we’re also doing our best to navigate the COVID-19 crisis. If ever there was a time for us to prioritize self care and compassion towards ourselves and one another, it would be now. This week we’re sharing a few ideas to help you get through these taxing times.
1. Make Time for Loved Ones
The holidays this year will likely look a little different so staying connected and spending time with loved ones might take a little more planning or creativity. Put a Skype date on your calendar to get some face time in with family and friends you’re not able to see in person due to COVID-19 restrictions. Choose discussion topics that are likely to have a positive impact on everyone’s mood – like recalling good shared memories – and set aside differences by avoiding topics like politics and the pandemic. There are definitely ways that expressing your opinion and engaging in healthy debate can support your wellbeing but it’s also important to keep things in perspective and press the pause button every now and again.
2. Set Reasonable Expectations
The holidays are a relaxed and magical time filled with nothing but love. Your family laughs together while sipping hot cocoa and playing board games by a crackling fire in the evenings, after a fulfilling day of happily completing household chores and volunteering at the local soup kitchen. Your gifts to one another are meaningful and unique, although you all understand that the truest gift is the quality time you spend together. Right? (I enjoyed a good belly laugh typing that out!) Let’s get real: the holidays are stressful! Let go of the “shoulds” and enjoy as much of it as you can – which might not be every waking moment of every day, and that’s ok.
3. Embrace the Great Outdoors
Canada’s winter days are short, but the months are long. Decreased exposure to natural light and extreme weather conditions can effect mood, sleep, stress, appetite and more. Make a point of bundling up and getting outside. Enjoy a “nature bath” – mindfully immersing yourself in nature without technology or other distractions. My dog Ruby and I love making use of the beautiful hiking trails we’re fortunate to have easy access to here in southern New Brunswick. They’re well-trafficked in the summer months but tend to be quiet through the winter, so usually the only sounds are birds chirping and the crunch of snow underfoot (and under paw). Even stepping outside for a couple of minutes to take some deep breaths can be uplifting. Work a bit of fresh air into your daily schedule.
4. Help Someone
Did you know performing an act of kindness for someone else activates the “feel good” centre in your brain? Helping someone who’s going through a hard time is as valuable for the helper as it is for the person receiving the help. Helping others doesn’t just mean tangible goods, like making a charitable donation. Simply being there as a sounding board for a friend, family member or co-worker – without judgment or unsolicited advice – can be powerful and positively impact both of you. It’s a win-win!
5. Mind Your Body
Being diligent about getting enough sleep, regular physical activity and a balanced diet is critical. Because our mental, physical and social health are intertwined when one component suffers there’s often a negative domino effect (if you’re a regular reader you know this is something I frequently harp on!). The good news is that taking good care of one of those three aspects of our health can have a really positive impact on the other pieces of the pie. In other words, a good physical health routine supports mental resilience.
6. Take a Tech Break
You’ve heard this one before, I’m sure, but it’s such an important thing to be mindful of right now. If your social media news feed looks anything like mine you’re probably scrolling through a lot of negativity and anxiety-provoking content. While social media can help us stay connected with those we care about, especially if you’re in a region where you can’t see your loved ones face-to-face due to pandemic restrictions, there’s a TON of research out there indicating too much of it can be really damaging to our mental health. Keep your social media intake in check and carve out time to be tech-free, especially leading up to bedtime.
7. Take Self Care Seriously
The holidays are busy and finding time for yourself might be difficult… but it’s important. Vegging out with Netflix, engaging in a meaningful hobby or taking a bubble bath shouldn’t be seen as “unproductive” endeavours – to the contrary! Downtime is necessary for good mental health. Remember, self care should be restorative and intentional, not mindless. Think about strategies that have helped you to unwind in the past and make it a priority to do some of these things, especially when you notice your stress level rising.
8. Know When and How to Get Professional Support
Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD or seasonal depression, is a diagnosable medical condition and there are plenty of evidence based treatments available. Going through highly stressful, extraordinary circumstances increases risk for just about all mental disorders, too. Just like physical illnesses, mental health problems are real, diagnosable medical issues. If you were experiencing physical pain that made your day-to-day life difficult or less enjoyable you’d see a health care professional, right? Because of stigma, people sometimes feel too embarrassed, intimidated or fearful to reach out for help with their mental health and sadly, many struggle in silence for years or even a lifetime. Don’t let stigma hold you back from living a happy, healthy life. Talk to your family doctor or a trusted health care provider, access your Employee Assistance Program if your workplace offers one, or dial 2-1-1 or visit 211.ca to learn about resources that are available in your area.
Take care this month, my friends. Thanks for reading!
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to frequent keynote speaking and corporate training on mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.