What changes are you facing at the moment? New job? New house? A change in relationship status? A child starting school or leaving for University?
Life is constantly changing whether it is something we can control or something we can’t, whether the change is perceived as being good or bad. Who we are now is not who we were last year, last week, even yesterday. Life doesn’t stand still, change is the very nature of our existence – our thoughts, feelings and beliefs are as changeable as the UK weather. While change may be inevitable it is not always something we welcome or something we can easily deal with. It can upset our world and we may face that change with resistance, fear, anger, sadness, grief and anxiety. Any form of adjustment is accompanied with some level of stress or distress even a positive change.
Change is difficult because it is different. Our brains like to make sense of the world around us, if we can categorise something then we can make sense of it, thus making the world feel like a safer place. So we need to train our brains to better adapt to change. If we embrace and experience change regularly then our brain will start to process this new information, we are collating evidence that says we can cope with change, we can survive it, that it can help us to grow and can lead to positive outcomes. This will mean that we are less likely to fear change.
As we can’t control the things changing around us how do we make the transition less stressful? Here are some tips for dealing with change:
Accept that change is inevitable – it’s okay to feel stress, anxiety, distress. Allow yourself time to experience these emotions but don’t dwell on them, equally avoiding the stress can be just as harmful because the emotions we experience are a part of the way we process the change.
Consider the positives – this isn’t easy because emotional distress can make it very difficult for us to be able to be positive or even rational. If you are finding this step difficult ask yourself ‘what would I tell a friend if they were the one in this situation’. You could also ask an independent person for their opinion.
You have faced change before – make a list of previous experiences, times when you have dealt with change and come out the other side. Being able to see past successes can help to boost our confidence in dealing with the current change.
Write down what you are worried about – What are you most afraid of? What is the worst case scenario? Write it all down. Sometimes, seeing our thoughts and fears written down on a piece of paper can help us to gather perspective. It can help us to take a more detached view of our thoughts and in turn this can help us to see that our thoughts and anxiety may be inflated causing unnecessary distress.
Breathe – When distressed, anxious or scared we breathe shallowly. If you feel nervous take some deep breathes from your diaphragm (you should see your stomach blow up like and balloon being inflated). This will help you to feel calmer.
Relax – Do something that you find relaxing, how about trying yoga, a run, a hot bath or read a book.
Seek extra support – Talk to a friend or family member about what is making you anxious. If you are finding a change particularly difficult to adjust to then seek extra support. Talking therapies can help you to understand the cause of the difficulty adjusting and can help you to find strategies for coping.
Beating the winter blues.
Have you started hibernating yet? We all know the feeling..... everything just seems like too much trouble; it's easier to close the curtains and crank up the heating, blocking out the cold winter days and nights. Many of us experience a sink in mood during the autumn and winter months, we may feel tired, lethargic or experience low spirits, this is termed the winter blues.
Most scientists agree that the winter blues is linked to the body's response to reduced daylight. Simply put, hormonal changes occur in response to the amount of light taken in by our eyes. Melatonin (the hormone associated with sleep cycles) and serotonin (the feel good hormone) levels change; melatonin levels increase in response to reduced light and serotonin levels reduce.
Below are some tips to help beat those winter blues. However, if you are feeling deeply depressed and your daily functioning is impaired it is recommended that you visit your GP.
Tips for beating the winter blues:
Keep active, whether that's a visit to the gym, a run, a bike ride or even a brisk walk. If that feels too much then fidget, jiggle your legs. Rhythmic movements and exercise release serotonin.
Try to get a minimum of 20 minutes natural light a day, the more natural light that you can be exposed to the better. If you can't get out of the house try sitting in the window, otherwise invest in a box light. Light therapy is offered in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and is effective in up to 85% of cases.
Being cold can impact upon your mood, it can leave you feeling low. Studies have shown that staying warm can reduce the winter blues by half. Keep warm with hot food and drinks, wear warm clothes and aim to keep your home between 18 - 21 degrees Celsius.
We are all aware of the benefits of a healthy diet.
Take up a hobby
A lot of people stop doing things that they enjoy over the winter period; this in itself can trigger feelings of low mood. Having something to focus on can really help, so keep your mind active not just your body.
See your friends and family
Socialising is great for your mental health! In fact, researchers in Canada have found that we can feel cold when our mood is low or we feel socially isolated. A social event with a friend or family member is a great mood booster but if that is difficult to arrange around other commitments, a simple phone call will do.
Should you find the symptoms of the winter blues persist or they start to impact upon your ability to function at work or home then talking treatments can help you to cope or better manage the symptoms. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), counselling and psychotherapy are all types of talking therapies.
Hopefully these tips will help you to better manage those winter blues.
Making Time for Me – Using behaviour to encourage mental wellbeing
Making time for yourself is neither selfish nor indulgent, it's necessary.
What we do affects our mood. When we feel overwhelmed and stressed we spend more time doing jobs, we reduce the time we normally spend socialising or engaging in hobbies/ enjoyable activities. Essentially we cut out the things that can help us to feel good, happy or fulfilled. The result of which can be increased stress levels and lowered mood. This cycle doesn't just apply to stress, behaviour impacts a range of emotions; when we feel depressed we do less and withdraw socially, this serves to further reduce our mood. Similarly, when we are anxious we tend to avoid going out, we reduce social contact, thus increasing anxiety in the long term and increasing the likelihood of experiencing low mood.
We can see how our behaviour impacts upon the way we feel, however, the examples here illustrate how our behaviour negatively affects mood but it can also have the opposite effect. Let’s look at how you can use your behaviour in order to encourage mental wellbeing. We need to be more aware of what we do, to keep it simple consider these three elements:
Closeness to others
Create a balance between these three factors (CAP).
Closeness to others
Socialising and connecting with others boosts oxytocin. Mix with others on a regular basis. Meet with friends or family members, smile at a passer by or make time for a colleague. The Internet and social media are a good place to start to build confidence socialising but the overall aim is to experience face to face contact.
Achievement and purposeful activity increases dopamine and serotonin. It is great to partake in purposeful activity to a limit. There are always jobs to be done but perhaps limit them, develop a realistic plan for the day. Don't try to complete all of your jobs at the expense of your mental health.
Aim to do more enjoyable activities, a hobby, exercise, even something as simple as a hot bath, drinking of cup of tea whilst reading your favourite magazine. Whatever works for you.
The tricky thing is giving yourself permission to get a balance in these three areas. Don't get caught up completing all of your jobs and neglecting what makes you happy and fulfilled. Whilst it's hard to let things go, it can be in your best interest. So here it is, permission to do something for yourself. It's good for you!
CBT was found to be the most effective treatment for social anxiety (even when compared to medication). Take a look at the article.