I am currently working on a project that involves me learning a lot more about the intricacies of mental health. I am discovering that mental illnesses are occurring in the deaf community at a much higher rate compared to our hearing counterparts, yet a stigma around mental health in general still remains. I want to do more to change than and to encourage more discussions about mental health in the deaf community.
I know of several deaf friends who struggle with their mental health and the winter – for most of them – tends to be the hardest time of year. Days are shorter and nights are longer so there’s a sense of less respite or escape from difficult times or challenging relationships.
As well as there being a very real physical effect of low sunlight levels (low vitamin D in the body can contribute to depressive moods or anxiety) the winter can also bring about behavioural changes.
We may find ourselves enjoying comfort foods more, staying home more, interacting less. There is nothing wrong with retreating but an important part of mental wellbeing is to keep socially connected with others. It is harder to do that in person when the rough weather kicks in, I guess!
Through my research and my writing I have rounded up some pointers that I will be personally bearing in mind this winter to look after my own mental wellbeing and I truly hope that this reaches whoever else may find it useful!
- Keep in touch with friends this winter.I know that Christmas can be a hectic time of year and it’s sometimes tricky to find a date for meeting others, but try not to neglect your social needs when you’re busy taking care of everyone else this winter. This especially applies to parents, carers and those who work in caring professions. A quick video call with a friend can boost your mood massively! Stay connected and at the very least schedule at least one day per week for meeting up or catching up with friends.
- You don’t have to see certain people this Christmas if your relationships are challenging.I have seen this advice circulating for a while and it took me a while to get my head around it, but in a nutshell it means – if you feel obliged to see certain family members or even friends this Christmas but you don’t feel good after meeting them – make different plans.Healthy friendships will always boost you, not drain you. This is YOUR Christmas so make it about people who love and appreciate you, not those you feel obligated to be around. This may be difficult to do completely but even limiting time that you’re with uncomfortable family members can be a massive step towards feeling assertive and empowered in your relationships.
- Keep up with your hobbies and interests during those ‘weird endless days.’That time period between Christmas and New Year can often feel rather odd as the buzz of Christmas has died down, you’ve probably over indulged and you’re feeling a bit meh. So its important to keep yourself occupied with hobbies you enjoy.Staying home and bingeing on Netflix may seem good at first, but you know that adage about too much of a good thing – it’s very wise! So be sure to head to the footy match or read that book you’ve been putting off. Looking after your mental health means keeping a balance between rest and stimulation. Keep yourself interested in the world around you so your perspective isn’t just coming from inside your mind.
- When you’re too ‘in your head’ – get in your body. One of the easiest ways to feel more grounded and present in the world is to move your body. Mental illnesses can often mean we find ourselves lost in mental energies, thoughts and rumination about how we feel can affect our mood and prevent us from fully interacting with the world around us.
I find that simply walking my dog on a cold brisk day can take me out of my head and all of the stressy thoughts circulating in my mind. Sometimes it can feel like our minds are chattering non stop, and so its beneficial to look at how to feel your physicality more. Any form of exercise of physical movement is good for this.
- Change your routine up.Often we live our lives on auto pilot, living out the same thoughts and behaviours each day. We can often feel different and better – if only temporarily – when we take ourselves out of the same old routine and do something different. In mindfulness it’s called having a child’s mind, when we view the world as new and interesting in every moment instead of seeing it as ‘same old, same old.’If I feel a low mood coming on in the winter, I change my routine or get engaged in something different. I start a little DIY project. I drive myself to a different park. I go to a different restaurant. The mind can often feel like a constricted place but by expanding our surroundings and experiences, we can also create more space in our minds
- Be gentle with yourself on low days.If you do experience a dip in your mood or an increase in anxiety during the winter, try and treat yourself like you would a best friend. Are you eating well? Sleeping okay? Is there anything you want to talk to someone about?If you need to check in with a GP, by all means do so but remember to treat yourself with the same gentleness that you would with someone you love. So often we beat ourselves up for feeling down or for struggling, but what we really need is our own support instead of self criticism. Find ways that you can be your own best friend and give yourself what you need.
- Reach out.If you are struggling at any point this winter, and you don’t have someone close that you can text, video call or meet, you can always text ‘deaf’ to 85258 for free immediate support. If you are reading this and you’re finding things tough, please, please do reach out to someone and just say you’re having a hard time. Help is available and things CAN get better, there is always hope.
Wishing you all a safe and healthy winter!