January the 17th has been designated as “Blue Monday” – supposedly the gloomiest day of the year. In reality there is no evidence behind this. Blue Monday was created back in 2005 by Sky Travel Shop as part of a publicity campaign, however it has gained traction and seems to be generally here to stay. If it promotes discussion about mental and emotional health it can only be a good thing.
Regardless of the evidence behind a particular day, there is no question that many of us will be experiencing difficult feelings at this time of year. We’re in the midst of winter, Covid-19 is still affecting everyone’s life and the next few months are full of uncertainty. Many will have experienced loss of some kind: loss of a loved one, loss of a job and/or income, loss of social connection or loss of time, when struggling to balance work and home schooling.
All feelings are valid and it is normal and appropriate to experience difficult feelings when life feels so uncertain and stressful. We all manage difficult feelings in different ways, there is no right or wrong but some ways maybe more helpful to us than others. We may suppress feelings or bottle them up, hoping they will just disappear, or we might dump them on others or act them out, hurting ourselves or other people in the process.
Feelings provide us with valuable information about our needs, if we can take a moment to become aware of them they may give us a clue as to how we can take care of ourselves. Rather than pushing difficult feelings away or dumping them on others, it can help to just acknowledge and name them, allowing yourself to sit with and accept them. Feelings are not permanent, they do pass. What is it that helps you to settle yourself when you feel overwhelmed or stressed? For some it’s doing something physical, for others it may be listening to music, talking to a friend or immersing ourselves in a box set or something creative. And if feelings become stuck and our level of anxiety or the depths of our low mood mean that we’re struggling to function, then that is telling us that we need to ask for help – just as we would if our bodies were struggling.
Feelings also drive behaviour so difficult behaviour from our children, other family members or work colleagues may alert us to the difficult feelings they’re experiencing too. We need to have appropriate expectations of ourselves and others at this time, responding with empathy to the feelings behind the behaviour. Teenagers in particular may be struggling and there are some useful tips available for supporting them during lockdown. Thinking about our colleagues, Fiona Meechan has written an excellent toolkit for compassion at work, compassion involving both empathy and action.
As well as empathy and compassion for others, practice some self-compassion: be aware of your own needs and the small ways in which you might meet them. Self-care is not an indulgence, it is an essential and fundamental part of our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. And part of self-care is being aware when we need to ask for help from others. So if you’re struggling on Blue Monday or any other day, be kind to yourself and ask for help, whether that’s from family, friends or professionals.
Sarah Darton, CEO