2020 has been a tough year, there is no doubt about it! I for one am running out of steam, motivation is low and I´m wondering whether this pandemic will ever end and if it does what will be at the other side of it? I´m noticing the lows are coming more often and lasting longer, and I know I´m not alone. And that´s okay. We are human beings dealing with an unprecedented level of uncertainty and change and we don´t have our usual stress-busting outlets available to us so we can expect things to feel a but more challenging at times.
As we head into winter in the Northern Hemisphere things are about to get a little bit tougher. The days are getting shorter and colder and for a lot of people adding SAD to f*cked-off will be the final hooray for 2020. The weather, the pandemic and the amount of daylight are all out of our control but we can still prepare for what´s coming. Here´s my three steps for how to plan for when the winter blues threatens our last ounce of sanity in the year we´d rather forget.
Make a plan
Business and public buildings all have emergency response plans because they know that when the sh*t hits the fan and we face a crisis our executive functioning goes offline and things like flexible thinking, planning and prioritising, self-monitoring and impulse control become less available to us. The same thing happens when we slip into a funk and the reason it feels like we can´t think straight it´s because our amygdala has taken over and we basically turn into toddlers with complex emotions. And that my friend is why we need to have a contingency plan in place.
We all know the things that make us feel better but we tend to forget them when we need them most, so plan for the shitty days ahead. Think of ways to sooth and nourish yourself ahead of time, write them down and stick that list somewhere you can see it. If it turns out you don´t need to use that plan great, but if you do then you have an arsenal of resources at your fingertips when thinking is just too much.
When you are thinking of your plan, think both in terms of things that create energy for when you´re low or dissipate energy for when you´re anxious, there are no hard and fast rules here, you know what works best for you. Some activities are balancing which means can be both energising or calming like going for a walk or a cycle, great to have on your plan for when you´re not quite sure what you need.
Here are some ideas of things to include:
Know your Signs
We all have tell-tale patterns and signs that let us know we need to up our self-care a little. For me, I know I need to pay attention when I start putting the things that keep me in balance further and further down my priority list. My journaling habit goes out the window, I exercise less and start eating way more simple carbs usually in the form of toast- because it´s fast and easy. Other people stop listening to music or withdraw from the people they care about, the thing is we all have different modus operandi and the important thing is to become aware of what yours are so you can put your action plan in motion when the first signs start showing up.
It can be hard to spot your tells at the beginning but stick with it. You may even need to look back after you´ve been in a funk to begin to notice the warnings. Reflect on what was going on the last time you felt off, what changes did you notice in the run up to it? It may take a bit of practice to really catch yourself at the beginning of a downward spiral but before long you´ll notice you´re jumping to correct it faster and bouncing back better than ever before.
Remember- it´s not about never feeling low, or fed-up or anxious ever again, we are human after all, it´s about being better able to spot the signs and support yourself through these spells so you spend less time there.
I know I am always banging on about the importance of self-compassion, well that´s because I can´t stress it enough- learning self-compassion can change your life. We all know the theory of treating ourselves with unconditional kindness yet when it comes to putting it into practice we falter.
W berating ourselves for falling into a depressed mood, fill our self-talk with shoulds and should nots and fear that if we are not hard on ourselves we will fall into a pit of self-pity and complacency. It never happens! I have worked with a lot of clients on develpoing self-compassion and not one of them has become lazy or self-indulgent, most of them actually achieve more. Why? Beacuse they learn how to treat their failures as opportunities and how to recognise when they need to slow down and take a little extra care of themselves. So the next time you are struggling with something check in with yoursefl and see if you are treating yourself and talking to yourself with the same care and kindness you would give to someone you love dearly, and if you aren´t adjust your behaviour so you are not being so hard on yourself, you´re not talking to yourself in a deplorable way and your expectations of yourself are not excessively high.
We all have days when things get on top of us, but with a little self-awareness, self-compassion and preparation we can make sure those days don´t turn into weeks. We can learn to support ourselves in a way that´s life giving and sustainable and it doesn´t need to cost the world.
Got any interesting or unusual self-care practices? Share them in the comments!