After a few weeks of having no time to write (or even switch on my laptop!) I am writing this with a smile, hoping that it helps someone who is feeling stressed or down this week. People often tell you to get help when you are struggling, but there are very few people in one’s life that will drop everything and spend time with you whenever you need it. Even children sometimes have to wait to get their mother’s attention, and best
friends can often be too busy with their own problems or responsibilities in the exact moments when you need to talk. There are several self-help books and resources online, but how do you cope when you do not even have the strength, time or motivation to go online or read a book?
I have never been as busy as I was last month when we moved house while doing everything else that we normally do, because the move happened sooner than we expected. We also chose to carry on with home improvement plans in the first few weeks of moving, even though it meant a lot of inconvenience and minimal sleep. I guess the excitement and adrenaline kept us going, but I suddenly felt very tired three weeks after moving house, when the contractors had finished their work and gone. I started noticing my red flags at home and at work. “Red flags” like forgetting to do little important tasks, feeling tearful and mixing up days. News of a family bereavement that week also hit me badly at such a weak moment and I started to feel fed up. Little things that would not normally bother me, became annoying and tiresome. I knew I had to do something, for the sake of my mental health. It is not always possible to drop everything and take time off to rest and feel better, friends and professionals are not always as easy to access when you need to talk, and sometimes you do not even have the right words to say how you feel! Here are some tips I found helpful to turn things around, sooner rather than later.
Back to basics: Our house move process made me realise the importance of routine and having a calm home environment. A few weeks of late and irregular bedtimes, no family dinners together, a very untidy lounge and no time to unwind got me feeling tired and down. I was snacking a lot to keep my energy up because I was too busy. Some emails and phone messages got missed, because I had too much to do. My hair and fingernails needed attention, my car needed washing and I was missing my regular exercise and family movie time. By the time I noticed my red flags, I was so glad that the house was sorted, so that I had a safe haven to recuperate in, after making time to sort out the little issues that made me feel uncomfortable. An Englishman’s home is indeed his castle. It is sad to imagine that some people live their normal lives in the type of chaos we had whilst moving house, which is why their lives feel constantly stressed and disorganised. Ensuring that we went back to a good routine for meals, sleep and exercise, helped me and my family to feel better. It sometimes takes more work to get some routine and order in place, but it is definitely worth it, for your mental health. I even tried to take some days off work and reschedule the timings for some after-school activities to allow myself more time at home, as that is what I felt I was missing. Everyone is different in terms of what routine works best for them, but having a good routine and less chaos works wonders for mental wellbeing.
Shake it up - Sometimes the problem is not a lack of a routine, but too much of a routine! It was unbelievable how much better I felt when I listened to something other than my usual Spotify playlist on my way to work one morning. Doing the same thing every morning for several weeks can be depressing. I do love variety in my day and in my week, so I usually plan something different to look forward to. I guess there was not much time for that while I was busy making our house a home. I think we just sometimes have to change things around a bit to feel better. I am thankful for the new work roles I signed up for and the blessing of making friends in our new neighbourhood, which adds some excitement to my week. It is sometimes even as simple as choosing something different to watch or eat on your relaxing weekend, so life does not feel too same-y. Make time to do things you want to do, not just things you have to do. This can sometimes come at a price (for example, when you have to reduce your paid work hours or talk to people you would not normally relate with), but no sacrifice is too much for your sanity. You just might have to cut down on some expenses, get out of your comfort zone or be content with less. It is okay to be silly at times, be spontaneous, be brave. Changing things around can sometimes mean taking a leap of faith, but that might just be what you need to enjoy life better.
Speak out - Just because people are busy does not mean they do not care. I found it therapeutic just to send a message out to let our friends know that we had a recent bereavement and I was finding it difficult. I was not expecting any flowers or hugs (during social distancing), and no one spent an hour talking to me about my feelings, but sharing the pain somehow made it better. It was comforting to know that people who see me often knew that something else was on my mind. When people know what is going on with you, they are more likely to see any “red flags” you miss and go out of their way to help, if needed. Speaking out, for me as a Christian, is also about prayer. I like to talk to God about my feelings and trust Him to help me through the challenges. Christian friends and family prayed for me and I found so much encouragement from reading the Bible. You can also make time for quality phone calls to people that you trust to share your thoughts and also to check on them. Listening to other people can help you get away from your own problems and see them differently later. I think that writing also helps me to process my thoughts and experiences, so that I can see things to be grateful for, even in tough times.
Many self-help tips are about choices and changes we decide to make for ourselves, but if you feel too low or tired to make any changes, and the feeling persists for up to two weeks, it might be time to speak to your doctor or call a helpline. There are medications and psychotherapies that can help prevent things from getting worse. Knowing who you are and what works for you is the first step to helping yourself. No matter how bad a situation seems, it is always worth taking a step back to pinpoint what exactly the issue is, and what can or cannot be changed. The serenity prayer comes to mind now, because accepting things that cannot be changed and changing our own attitude to the challenge could be the solution we need. I am reminded of a Sunday School song we used to sing: “There is no mountain that I cannot climb. When I say ‘I’, I mean ‘Jesus and I’…” Self-help is not about doing everything by yourself or in your own power, but about doing your best for yourself and your future.
Dr Afiniki Akanet is the author of 2020 Year of Plenty and Life without Coffee (Choosing Happiness Over Stress) - Afiniki.co.uk