Nick Harwood

Nick Harwood

NickHarwood

Nick Harwood, is the steps2change service manager at Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust


We are getting closer to Blue Monday – apparently the most depressing day of the year. In 2019 it falls on January 21.

The idea of Blue Monday was based on research that revealed that we tend to be the most unhappy towards the end of January and traditionally Mondays take the lion’s share of grumpiness (have you started humming “I don’t like Mondays” yet?).

I’ve read somewhere that Blue Monday was a cunning marketing ploy by travel companies to get people booking their holidays. I can see a logic in this as it gives us something to look forward to and takes us through January, which sometimes seems like a month with no end.

The beginning of the year can be challenging to our mental health. A combination of post-Christmas blues, short days and possible financial worries following the festive season can make us feel down or stressed. On top of this, the end of January is often the time when we fall off the wagon of keeping our New Year’s resolutions on drinking less booze, eating healthier, exercising, dieting, watching less TV, reading more books – you name it.

Many of us struggle and are exhausted physically from pushing ourselves too hard rather than giving ourselves the time to recharge. We’re also drained emotionally from feeling guilty about not keeping up with the “New Year, new you” regime. The stress response kicks in and we feel even worse.

The important thing to remember is that you’re not alone with your feelings. Don’t let Blue Monday get to you and instead use the idea introduced by the Samaritans and turn it into Brew Monday. Connect with friends and family, enjoy a cup of tea (other non-alcoholic beverages are allowed) and chat about anything that may be bothering you. The Samaritans found out that nine out of ten Brits believe that a brew and a chat is the perfect way to reach out to other people. A YouGov survey commissioned for Brew Monday also discovered that eight out of ten people believe getting together for tea and a talk makes them feel better.

I think we’re putting ourselves under too much pressure in January. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in for a fresh start, clean slate and trying to improve your physical health but making a lot of resolutions that we won’t be able to keep will only make us feel worse about ourselves. Use this time of the year as an opportunity to reflect and recharge.

Think about your achievements from 2018, what went well, how you felt then and how you can bring these feelings to help you through Blue Monday.

There are a lot of different reasons why less than 10 per cent of us manage to stick with our resolutions including being over ambitious and trying to change everything at once. I mean let’s face it, with tubs of Christmas chocolates still piled up in the lounge am I going to be able to resist it?

There’s one resolution, however, that I am going to stick to – and you can too. It’s not to let the Blue Monday get to you and use it as an opportunity to turn it into Brew Monday and talk about how January has been for you so far. And if you feel that you need to talk to professionals about your mental health, please visit your GP – they’re as interested in your mental health as they are in your physical health.

You can also self-refer to steps2change – a free NHS talking therapies service by going to www.steps2change.nhs.uk.


Nick Harwood is Service Manager for steps2change, talking therapies service run by Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

Nick Harwood, is the steps2change service manager at Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

The world grows ever smaller, more connected, more crowded, and ironically, increasingly lonely for many of us. The feeling of loneliness can be especially noticeable around Valentine’s.

Persistent loneliness can be emotionally difficult and impact on our wellbeing. For instance, lonely people tend to sleep poorly, and experience increased depression and anxiety.

It’s important to recognise that loneliness is not the same thing as being a private person, or a “loner”, because some of us need and enjoy time to ourselves. Loneliness, instead, refers to the difference between the amount of social contact you have and the amount you want; is about feeling isolated. The opposite of loneliness isn’t popularity though – you can have dozens of “friends” and still feel lonely.

If you want to stop feeling lonely, here are some ideas that may be helpful:

Practice your social skills

Plan activities that will give you a chance to practice your social skills. Approach people rather than waiting for them to talk to you. Speak to your neighbours, contact people that you know and like, or speak to the shop assistant when visiting the local shop.

Join activities or groups

Often we can become lonely because of a change in circumstances, such as bereavement, divorce or relocation. If you increase opportunities for social interaction, through joining organized group activities for example, you can break that vicious cycle.

Use technology

If your friends and family live far away, a good way to stay in touch is by using a computer. Libraries and community centres often hold regular training courses for people to learn basic computer skills.

Change negative thinking

In social situations, lonely people immediately think the worst. You find yourself focusing on everything that went wrong, or wondering if you’ve made a bad impression. You tend to remember more of the negative things that happened during an encounter, and fewer positive things. Often it’s because of negative thinking.

It is common for us to think: “I am boring, who would want to spend time with me?” or “no-one will like me” – this can then lead to avoiding situations because it feels too overwhelming. Learning to challenge and change negative thinking is one of the most successful ways to overcome loneliness.

Stop comparing yourself to other people

Comparing yourself to others can lead to an idealised fantasy about their lives, which is not accurate. Thinking “everyone is happier than me” and “everyone else has fulfilling relationships” is bound to make you feel worse. Again, recognising and challenging those thoughts will lead to feeling better.

You’re not alone with your loneliness. If you feel that it has become such a problem that you feel anxious or low in mood, help is available from the steps2change, free NHS service. For example learning how to be less socially anxious can really improve your confidence and is something that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is very effective at.

Similarly, improving your self-confidence can be achieved through sessions of counselling for depression. Interpersonal therapy (IPT) can also help people with depression to identify and address problems in their relationships with family, partners and friends.

You can self-refer to steps2change by clicking or tapping here.

Nick Harwood, is the steps2change service manager at Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

With Christmas on the horizon and all the stress of buying the right gifts for friends and family, planning your Christmas lunch and trying to stay on top of the usual work commitments, it’s easy to put yourself under so much pressure that when the day actually arrives it doesn’t feel festive or pleasurable at all.

Christmas can be highly stressful so it’s important to look after yourself and your mental wellbeing during the festive period.

The vision of a perfect Christmas that the media try to instil in us, with family sharing an elaborate meal in the comfort of a stylishly decorated house and the heat of the wood burner warming the room, can make us all strive for an unachievable perfection.

It’s great if your Christmas is perfect, but make it your own version of perfect – the version that suits you and people you’ll be with on the day. Remember that you don’t have to do everything yourself and involving family members may make it more fun. Sometimes ‘good enough’ really is good enough; although my wife may disagree here when it comes to decorating the Christmas tree and setting the table.

So while you are striving for perfection keep repeating in your head this mantra: “it’s not my job to make everyone happy”, because in the pursuit to cause the happiness of others you may actually lose out on your own in the end.

When planning what you need to do in the build up to the big day, make sure that you set aside some time for yourself when you can restore your energy and recharge your batteries. Be a bit selfish, because if you’re stressed, run down or fed up, your loved ones will definitely not have the Christmas you’d like them to remember.

I know mindfulness seems to be the new buzzword but it really is a great way to reduce stress levels, alleviate anxiety and improve low mood that you may be experiencing during the festive season. Try to find some time to relax and be in the moment.

Achieving mindfulness doesn’t have to be complicated, so if you want to have a go you can use one of the podcasts recorded by the steps2change talking therapies service which is run by Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (LPFT). Our free podcasts are available to listen to and download from LPFT’s SoundCloud channel.

So be a little bit “selfish” this festive period, think about your own mental health, be mindful and take a break.

Christmas is the time of giving, so this year give a little something back to yourself.