What are you calling it? Post-pandemic? In the future? When this damn mess is done? You know what I mean, that ephemeral, non-specific point in the future when we get back to normal. Or whatever normal will mean at that point. When we all peek out, tentatively, like shy forest creatures, from the nests we’ve created for ourselves, our warm, safe places, and shuffle through the dew-laced leaves to look up to the bright sky with optimism and hope.
Is it even wise to think this far ahead? Or just safer and more practical to think of the day-to-day, getting the outside things done and then scurrying back in to the safety of our own homes like the governments and health officials tell us to?
First, let’s be clear — your inner voice is an asshole.
Regardless of the time of day it may come to you, that nagging little voice that tells you that you’re too much or not enough; too fat, too ugly, too loud, too bossy, not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough… that voice is intended to fuck with your head. It is never ever there to help you, even though it will pretend to be.
Often the inner voice will come to you sounding like the actual voice of someone who has or does criticize you. Those voices are particularly difficult to free yourself from because they’re based on a relationship, usually toxic, and which you often feel is unfair or imbalanced or in which you’re not taken seriously. The inner voice’s job is to make you feel like crap about yourself, to doubt yourself, to question yourself to the point of failure.
Again, never forget, your inner voice is an asshole.
I’m sitting in front of the HappyLight waiting for the giddy to kick in. Okay, it’s not exactly a feeling of giddiness and there’s not a switch that gets flipped to take you from obviously sad to blatantly happy, but after the fact, after I’ve sat here for 30 or 40 minutes with this light shining in my eyes, there can be a sense of mild euphoria that is both disconcerting and pleasing after feeling so dark.
To keep a sense of balance, I really need to sit with this thing every day. Skipping a day ultimately results in a funk. It’s not addictive, but I miss it when it’s not there.
The SAD has been worse for me this year than I can ever remember and it’s only the beginning of February. It was late in coming; early January instead of November, and I thought briefly that this might be one of those years when I escaped its clutches. Maybe I got enough Vitamin D from being out in the sun all summer — there have been years where that actually did happen. But it hit like a truck during the first week of January when both Greg and I came down with that terrible flu that has been going around. My case was surprisingly mild (a rarity for a person who gets colds that leave her with 10-week bouts of laryngitis), but it was bad enough that I felt like crap long after the fever and the coughing had stopped.
We have a tendency to confuse self care with “Treat Yo’Self!!” and so today’s advice comes with the disclaimer to pay close attention to the “bit” part.
It’s well known that chocolate contains chemicals that make us feel good. Many people, when surveyed, say they’d choose chocolate over sex. And a little something sweet, especially if it makes us feel grateful – for the treat, or for the person who gave it to us, or just the experience of eating it – is certainly a good thing to do for ourselves.
What’s in your mailbox today? I bet there are probably some bills, and also some flyers for stuff you probably don’t care about. If you’re lucky, maybe there’s a magazine, or a package for something you ordered online. But do you know what’s not there? A nice card or letter.
Letter writing has fallen by the wayside. In these days of social media, why would anyone even bother to send cards or letters to their friends or family? Especially when email or social media is so much faster. What a waste of paper, right?
Except that getting a card or letter in the mail makes people feel good. Even if – especially if – it’s not a special occasion like a holiday or birthday, getting a card from someone you love, solely for the purpose of telling you that they love you and are thinking about you, feels absolutely fantastic. And sending letters, to loved ones or to strangers, can also make you feel pretty great.
But you must give in order to receive, so start by writing a letter to someone. If you can’t think of anyone you know who might appreciate this gesture, there are plenty of organizations where you can send letters to strangers, or nominate someone to receive letters. Pretty soon, you’ll become addicted to nice pens and fancy stationery, and you’ll have a full-blown hobby that spreads a whole lot of joy.
And oh, look, Valentine’s Day is coming up. So get to it. Not sure you want to send letters to friends and family in case they think you’re silly? There are lots of strangers who might like a letter as well.
The world would be a much darker place without music. All types of music can inspire and energize us, mark our special moments, and fill our days with cheer.
And while any kind of music that you enjoy can help with the winter blues, there are a number of studies on how classical music can improve symptoms of depression and stress. Studies also link classical music to improved memory.
There is even a genre of music that is intended to improve memory. Known as Electronic Cognition or Electronic Focus music, this is electronic music with beta waves that supposedly help the listener to concentrate. Known as binaural beats, there is much debate on whether this music actually works, but when I tried it I found that I did concentrate better on the work I was doing.
Whatever genre you prefer, if music makes you feel better, then put something on in the background, or choose something that makes you get up and dance around the house.
When you’re feeling blue and not especially enthused about life, sitting and doing nothing can either seem ideal or absolutely horrible. There are lots of good excuses to avoid meditating, such as; what if my back starts to hurt, I don’t know how to do it, what type of meditation should I try, should I do it alone or in a group, and what if I fart?
There are many different types of meditation, all slightly different, and depending on what you hope to achieve, one may be better than the others. But for the purposes of feeling better because it’s February and the world is kind of shitty, a more general approach might work best.
To get started, there are dozens of meditation websites and apps that can help. A lot of people really dig Headspace, but I find the main instructor a bit too chatty. My favourites are a site/app called Stop, Breathe and Think which offers a variety of simple, guided meditations that encourage mindfulness and compassion, as well as Calm, which has a lot of sound files of nature sounds and a timer, if you want to just listen to a stream or some birds. Most of these sites offer some free options with additional paid stuff, or monthly rates that you may or may not be inclined to purchase, depending on how you prefer to meditate. Check the app store for your choice of device, there are plenty of different services, with options for every style of meditation.
If you prefer to meditate in a group, check Google for some courses or groups in your local area.
Most people who do not meditate avoid the activity because they believe that you have to sit for hours every day. But the goal, at first, is not to achieve enlightenment but to simply quiet the mind, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
Depression can be a huge Catch 22. We feel too terrible to get up and do anything, and because we don’t get up to do anything, we feel even more terrible. This theory applies to the space around us as well. When we can’t find the energy to get out of bed, general tidying can often fall by the wayside. And then our house is cluttered and dirty, with piles of dirty laundry or dishes lying around, and we become even more disheartened.
less frustration because things are easier to find
a greater sense of harmony and peace because things are already in their place, and you’re not reminded that you have to clean
less guilt and embarrassment because your place is no longer a mess
less anxiety at the thought of having to sort through piles of stuff
There are plenty of sites out there to help you get organized and clean your place. Unfuck Your Habitat is a great one, and Flylady, while kind of twee, can really help with organizational skills.
And if 15 minutes seems totally overwhelming, start with 5. Clean off a table top or desk, scrub your kitchen sink, or vacuum one room. Take our the garbage. Fold one pile of laundry. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and the incentive to continue, and that’s good for your mental health.
Therapeutic massage can aid both physical and mental health and can even be directed to deal with specific issues – sports massage is an important part of physiotherapy and recovery from sports-related injuries, but you can also get massage designed to help with bereavement, for pregnancy, and even massage designed specifically for seniors.
If a massage with a professional registered massage therapist is still out of your budget, consider checking out a massage school where students will give treatments at a discount price.
Many massage schools also offer basic massage therapy courses for the lay person – these are fun to attend with a partner so you can learn how to massage each other.
When I went through a depressive period a couple of years ago, one of the things I really wanted to do was talk about it. This was mostly me trying to understand what was happening in my head (the depression and anxiety originally started because of a weird drug reaction), but I quickly realized that there’s only so much listening friends and family are able to do. That’s not to say that the people around me weren’t supportive and loving, but often they just didn’t know what to do to help.
Our society still has lots of stigmas surrounding mental health, which means many people who need someone to talk to never search out professional help, but if your February blues are more than just a bit of weather-related funk (or even if they are), there are different ways to find someone who will listen and guide you to deal with your issues.
Here in Canada, while we have a great healthcare system, therapy for mental health services is not typically covered. People with additional health insurance might have psychotherapy coverage, but for most of us, those funds are limited. And while face to face talk therapy is the best option in many cases, if you need some help and don’t have the time, money, or inclination to go through the traditional systems, online talk therapy can fill the gap and even be a better option for many people.
Sites like TalkSpace, 7 Cups of Tea, Breakthrough, and Better Help are reasonably-priced, and can offer much more frequent interaction than traditional weekly therapy. Using their website or a phone app, patients can sign up, be assessed and interact with an assigned therapist without leaving home. In most cases, the therapist replies once a day, but the patient can write as much as they want, whenever they want, making the response more immediate, and more specific to the issue at hand. Live chats or even video chats can be arranged for an additional fee, and it’s easy to switch therapists if you find you’re not clicking. Most of these sites also offer a free forum area, and there are also sites where you can vent to (unqualified) strangers, but my research indicates that these are less helpful than the paid services.
My own experience with the site TalkSpace was incredibly helpful, and I would definitely use it again if I felt the need.
Whatever kind of therapy you choose, know that it’s a fantastic, positive step in your own self-care.