Is it one week before Christmas and I am starting to think about January and what 2018 has ahead. It is ironic as I sit here in a coffee shop with Christmas music playing, I hear a conversation on the table next to me. The lady says ‘I can’t wait for Christmas to be over’. I wonder how many people feel like this? Whilst for many, December is a time of fun, spending time with family and having a few days break from the pressures of work. For others, it is a time of loneliness and suffering.
Once Christmas and the new year festivities are out of the way, the reality of starting a new year and back to work soon kicks in. The dread of returning after a short break can result in a downward spiral of mood. The ‘January blues’ well and truly kick in. Resolutions are often broken within the first few days, credit card bills arrive and that piece of work you left on your desk when you hurried out of the office for last minute drinks with colleagues is waiting for you with a closing deadline. You commute into work thinking of the lovely time you had on holiday and as you scan the faces of the people next to you on the packed tube, bus or train you see that the joy which was there in December has now gone.
As you arrive on the first day back, you exchange pleasantries with your colleagues, ‘How was your Christmas? How was your new year?’ Even if you had the worse time ever you are likely to come up with ‘good thanks, how was yours?’ You become good at deflection and hiding your emotions.
For me I find that having set goals, events, activities or holidays or short breaks throughout the year can help with the ‘blues’ as it gives me a sense of purpose and something to look forward to. Being a keen triathlete I look for events to book and I feel excited as I write them on my new 2018 calendar. Once they are booked then that is my commitment to training; again something which helps with my mood and mental health.
I am not saying that you have to book on to the next mountain climb or Ironman; it could be anything which you know stimulates your mind and helps you through cold dark days. I hear that many people try and do something new each day. For some this may be as simple as getting up and getting to work. For others it maybe reading a number of chapters of a book, or meeting up with friends or catching up with neighbours. One glove does not fit all and each of us will have something or someone that we can reach out to. Build this into you plans for the year; but ensure flexibility and time for you.
How can you help a friend or colleague?
- If you notice a colleague or a friend who maybe suffering; offer them your help and support. Many people say to me ‘but I don’t know what to say’. You do, just be you, as the person would not want you to be any other way. There is no need to act differently around someone who is suffering from a mental illness. Would you act differently if they were a diabetic or asthmatic? You are aware but it does not change things.
- Often your friend or colleague may want ‘space’ and ‘time out’ from people. Please do not take this personally. This is just their way of dealing with things. I am very fortunate in that my friends now know when I do not want to bother or talk. As long as they know that I am ok that is all that matters. My friends are still there for me at the end of the phone 24 hours a day. They do not change towards me if I go into hiding for 5 days. That is what makes them good friends who understand.
- Encourage your friend to seek professional help if they have not already done so. This could simply be signposting to GP or your employer’s occupational health team or counsellor if they have one. They may not want management to know and you may have to respect their wishes. I can relate to this as when I was in work, I was going through promotion and I did not want to show any signs of weakness (as this is what I thought it was at the time – I don’t now).
- Keep an eye on them, this can be done discreetly. Are you noticing any changes in their behaviour, attitude or appearance. Are they coping with the demands of work? Staying late or not taking adequate breaks. Invite them for a walk or coffee to get away from work, even if it is for a short time.
- Look after yourself. We are all susceptible to the highs and lows of life. Keep the conversations going and remember it is ok not to be ok.