It seemed like just yesterday when I had my first panic attack. Struggling to come up for air, swallowed breaths. In dark shadows where voluminous worries dwelled. Anxiety dancing like a tempest’s gale. Whispering seeds of doubt into my mind, my nerves shaking on fragile ground. Anxiety would grip me in its rough callused hands, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. That there was no way out. That I was drowning under the weight of overwhelm. I was stuck in a prison of thoughts that danced like a tulmotous storm. Stinging me, shocking me, its cloak murky grey. A shroud of dread, a fear that washed over me, like I was going cold. But it wasn’t just anxiety that threatened to take over. I struggled with Depression and PTSD too. My heart a captive in a never-ending battle. Where tears fell like lashings scraping at my face. If anxiety was the driving force for getting me out of bed, Depression was the antidote. It pulled me down until my body made indent marks in my mattress. My mind would be weary, with a sadness that felt like heartbreak. But sometimes, I would feel nothing. Numb, desensitized to the world around me. Feeling like I was a walking zombie, going through the motions. There was a desperation that clung to my soul. Despite the years of therapy, mindful self-care and medication, I felt exactly the same. This time of year is difficult for me. January, that quiet month of in-between. Struggling with finances. Feeling alone. Isolated, stuck in my own thoughts. Wondering if I have the strength to break out. It can be overwhelming to find the help you need. To speak to someone. To get help. But a big part of my January mental health hacks is to be honest. Don’t be afraid to speak your truth.
Even now, as I write this, I am still struggling with my mental health. I know that it is a lifelong journey. That trauma is deeply ingrained in my suffering. Abandoned by my mum, aged 2 and a half. The one person who was never meant to give up on me. My stepmum, who should have been a parent to me. Who mentally and physically abused me from the age of six. Going into foster care, and struggling my identity at 10. Bullied, by people who were meant to be my friends. Toxic relationships. Even now as an adult, I have trauma that I am dealing with. Health issues that I have been struggling with for years. Relationships that I have cut out of my life because I felt used and abused. Toxic work environments, bullied and ridiculed. Mental health issues piling up, a new unknown diagnosis. A house fire, debt and grief. Dealing with loss, struggling to find serenity. And yet, I want peace. I want to feel normal. I want to feel like I have purpose. Not just that I exist. I want to breathe deep, let go and release the strain. To find beauty in stillness. To find tranquility in calm. But its hard to find the strength to rise above. To let go of my obsessive-compulsive tendencies, to be less. Because I am someone who is always ‘MORE’. Who pushes herself beyond her limits, who is constantly working. Who goes above and beyond to help others. But if there is one thing I learned about conquering the January Blues, it is putting yourself first. Self-care isn’t selfish. Having your own mental health toolkit can help you when you are feeling down. It is something to turn to when you feel like you are alone. It’s the me-time ritual that reminds you that you are so much more. That you are worthy of happiness. That you are just as important as everyone else in your life.
I will be the first to admit that looking after myself dosen’t come naturally to me. I often put other people’s needs above my own because I am scared of conflict. I am someone who in my own life, finishes last. But I am starting to realize that isn’t the way it should be. How can you expect to give yourself to others, if you have nothing left to give. Why do we treat others with kindness but exploit ourselves? I struggle to relax because my mind is constantly in overdrive. I take on too much, to distract myself from the reality of my life. Most of all, I am triggered by so many things in my life. Sometimes something as small as a noise can set off my anxiety. The memory of an alarm outside like the alarm that went off in a house fire. A touch can send me spinning. A repeated event will have me spiralling. When I lay in bed at night, my body and mind can’t switch off. I lay for hours awake, watching night turn into morning. Sitting up in bed, shallow breaths racking my body. A back aching with tension. A head that hurts. A heart that feels crushed. But I am working on it. I am someone who is positive. Who likes to think that better days are around the corner. I acknowledge the pain that I am going through. When others have tried to deflect from my mental health, I let myself feel. I know that I feel guilty when I am struggling with my mental health. When you grow up being told that you are dramatic for crying, it is easy to see why. But everyday I remind myself to really let myself feel. It is painful, ugly and horrific. But it is a sign of healing.
The mental health hacks I use are simple, but effective. I am not going to be telling you something you don’t know. Because deep down we all know what we can do to boost our wellbeing. But here’s what I will be doing. Reminding you to look after yourself even when it feels impossible. To be as kind to yourself as you are to others. Even when you feel down, when the low mood creeps into your mind. Sometimes, the simplest routine can give us the greatest reward. Just remember, even when it feels like an uphill battle, you have got this. Every single day. Don’t feel like you need to filter your feelings to make other people feel comfortable. Don’t hide yourself, because you are scared about what people think. No matter what people say, looking after yourself isn’t selfish. In fact, it is as vital as drinking water. It should come naturally to us like breathing, but it dosen’t. Why does society still have such a warped view of mental health and getting help? I have been advocating for better mental health for years, and I am not going to stop now. From getting therapy and professional help, to prioritizing sleep, here are six simple tips for better mental health this January.
Prioritise Your Sleep For Better Wellbeing
Janaury Blues or not, I definitely struggle with my sleep. I go through periods. There are times where I fall asleep easily but wake up in the night with a panic attack. Struggling to get back to sleep after. Other times where I find bliss. Restful nights where I wake years younger. Then, there is what I am going through right now. I am struggling to get to asleep. Short, fitful sleeps that leave me spending the night in a constant state of anxiety. Granted, I have a lot on my plate. Recovering from a hospital procedure, struggling my health. Things that are difficult in my personal life. Struggling to keep up with the cost of living. Difficulties in friendships, where I feel like I have been taken advantage of. I miss the sleep I was having just a few weeks ago. Mostly smooth, the best sleep I had in a long time. Feeling like I had escaped my worries, that I found tranquility. We all know that quality sleep is a cornerstone of our wellbeing. Because my sleep patterns have been so disturbed is it any wonder that I feel so tired and slow? But establishing a consistient sleep routine can be difficult. In the past, there was a time where I couldn’t go to sleep before 12. I was scared about not waking up to see another day. As morbid as it sounds, that is how bad my mental health was. In constant terror. Feeling like I wasn’t safe. At the time I was living with an aggressive housemate. The one who started the fire. Who would send me horrific messages. Who stole my fridge, and broke my things. Who quite literally p**ssed outside my door. When I started living with my partner two years ago, I no longer felt afraid about falling asleep. Now? My body is terrified of relaxing and falling asleep.
I know this dosen’t sound like good advice. It sounds like I am just rambling. But here’s the thing. I do everything right. I invest in self-care. I take time out for myself. But there is so much I do wrong too. I avoid confrontation because I don’t like arguments. I work myself to the bone because I struggle to set boundaries. I say yes, even when I should be saying no. That’s why I want to be honest. I am sharing what I do, but it dosen’t mean that you are magically going to feel better overnight. What might work for you now, might not work for you the next. Be patient with yourself, and that includes with sleep. I have lost count of how many nights I have lost to little sleep. But I also know why. Prioritizing your sleep isn’t just about doing what looks good on paper. But its about learning to identify what is stopping you from getting rest. In my case it is trauma, and poor mental health. About struggling to let go. Most of all, it is about finding it hard to forgive myself. We treat ourselves so harshly, so is it any wonder that this affects our sleep cycle?
So how do I prioritize my sleep when I have chronic anxiety? My sleep routine begins as soon as I finish working. I give myself a moment to really feel, whether that is negative or positive. I sit in a room where I have no stimulation. Where I can be alone with my thoughts and decompress. Keeping the routine as small as possible is important too. I used to try everything to have a better night’s sleep to the point that it felt like a chore. Start small at first. For me after I decompress, I have a shower or bath, and read one of my favourite books. I unwind with a movie, and snuggle up with my partner on the sofa. But before I used to try meditation, breathwork, evening yoga and journalling. It just got too much. As someone who has a high amount of adrenaline running through her body, less really is more. It dosen’t come naturally to me. I am someone who does things to the extreme. And yet, I am trying my best to strip things back. I have a long way to go, but I am getting there. I also find that creating a distinction between work and play is so important for your sleep. I am aware that I can’t switch off right now because there are no boundaries. I work mostly from home. I relax, sleep, eat and work all in the same room. That’s why I get up, and walk around. Take a power walk outside and try and empty my mind. I also focus on 5 things I can see, smell, hear, and taste to ground me in my reality. When I am having a panic attack in the middle of the night, this helps me feel calmer.
Be Active To Boost Your Mood
One of my biggest (and newest) mental health hacks is being active. I was someone who never excercised. Sure, growing up, I danced as part of a musical theatre group. I walked for hours. I did the mandatory excercises that secondary school made you do. But I never went to the gym. I never excercised in my own free time. That was until now. Discovering excercise two years ago quite literally changed my physical and mental health. It goes without saying that it is a natural mood enhancer. In the past, it has helped me with my supressed stress, by giving me a cathartic outlet. It helped me find peace when I was feeling low, and gave me purpose when I didn’t know what to do. Most of all, the rush of endorphins in my brain, made me feel really good. Discovering the joy of excercise in lockdown helped me boost my confidence and find inner peace. It channelled my poor mental health into something positve. I don’t do it as often as I would like. I go through phases, and find consistiency hard. Yet, I am planning to make a comeback this January. Because I know that it will help me get a better night’s sleep, find clarity and inner joy. Over the Christmas season we have neglected our physical health. So getting back into the swing of things is difficult. Especially when it is icy cold outside, and the wind is unforgiving. Is it any wonder that we struggle to go outside in this weather? But here is the thing, you can do workouts at home. From dancing to yoga, to cardio, there’s no need to brave the cold.
However, for me personally I find that a different environment helps me be more proactive. Whether that is going for a brisk walk in a nearby park, running, or a fitness class, find your happy! The trick is to do something that brings you joy. To discover an activity that makes you feel energized. That helps you overcome the lethargy that often accompanies the January Blues. One of my biggest mental health hacks is doing excercise that I enjoy. I love to dance, so this is a big part of my routine. It dosen’t feel like I am working out (even if I am out of breath)! Yet, it relieves my physical and mental tension. It boosts my self-esteem. It helps me work through my trauma, and unleashes my creativity. Most of all, it helps me get comfortable with who I am. Dancing is a vunerable, expressive activity that can give you an insight into your identity. It is not about being good at something either. I find that when I am not good at something, there is less pressure, which helps me excercise with confidence. I am less likely to judge myself, and am less critical. Whether you excercice alone, or with others, being active can really help you get moving this January!
Socialise But On Your Terms
I know how lonely it can feel when you struggle with mental health issues. There are times where you don’t want to talk to anyone. Where you let the messages pile up and avoid calls. You go in hiding, hoping that it will all blow over soon. I know, because this is me talking from experience. People see me as social. As the life of the party. As a confident extrovert who is friendly and confident. And yet, they don’t know how much my mental health tries to isolate me. How it feeds off past bad social experiences. How it leaves me in a constant state of fear and anxiety. Sure, I love making new friends. But there are times when it scares me. Where I put up a front, a mask if you will. A disguise to hide the way I really feel inside. Hoping they can’t smell the anxiety that I know is emmenating off me. Wondering if they are whispering about me. Hoping they don’t dislike me. So yes, I love to be social. I am not someone who thrives in her own company. I feel lonely without other people around me. But at the same time, I crave my own space. Away from the insanity of real life. It’s a paradox, a struggle to navigate between the two. After all, how can you priortize social connections when you have no energy to give. Remember when I said about being someone who is always MORE? The last Fashion Week I attended, was a comeback after four years. I felt excited to be there, but at the same time nervous. I was agitated, and over the top. Manic in my ‘happiness and joy’. Overly friendly, overly vibrant. Someone who was sparkling, never dull. But noone saw the effort it took to be like that. The panic attacks that came after. The anxiety and depression that followed.
Our mental health can rob us of social interaction. It can keep us in bed, locked away from the outside world. But in my case, my mental health propels me forward. It stops me from relaxing, sees rest as a chore. It makes me social. I see myself as an extroverted Introvert. On the outside I appear to be loud, full of energy and quirky. But on the inside I am awkward. Not shy, but unsure of myself. Like my two personas battling each other. There are times where I go into social situations and feel rejuvanated. I have made new friends, have found my happy place. At others, I feel rejected, ignored, unseen. Invisible, wondering why. While it is important to put yourself out there, it is also important to look after yourself. Making new friends can be exhausting. If you are not in a good place, you can leave reeling, wondering why you even tried. For me, I socialize better in one to one situations. I find big groups overwhelming, losing myself in the process. Swallowed up in the white noise. But in smaller settings, I feel more comfortable. More at ease. If you aren’t naturally social, the biggest tip I have is to be your authentic self. Don’t plan out conversations and go with the flow. See what you have in common. After alll, baby steps are so important. I know it can be so easy to avoid social interactions when you are feeling down or anxious. And that’s OK. Allow yourself that time to come to terms with what you are dealing with. At the same time though, there needs to be a balance. If you are meeting up with a friend but aren’t feeling great, be honest about it. Go somewhere that feels like your safe space. For me, that might be going to eat, and then talking a walk after. Just make sure you are both on the same page. After all, you want to foster a positive and uplifting environment.
Plan Your Holidays And Breaks Now
I have said that 2024 will be my year of travel. Not only because I want a change of environment but also for my physical and emotional wellbeing. Travel can make you feel excited, it can change your mindset. Sometimes it can help you slow down and just go with the flow. I have always been a planner, so learning to be spontaneous is difficult for me. I am someone who likes to know what I am doing and when I am doing it. And yet travel is unpredictable. Your itinerary may change. The weather might be different to what you expected. But change is good. It helps you grow and challenges you to step outside of your comfort zone. It allows you to say yes to experiences that will enrich your life. In Tuscany, I strengthened a friendship. In Sri Lanka I learned that I needed to set boundaries. In Barcelona I had an escape away from work. Even on staycations travel has helped me discover mental health hacks. Aldeburgh helped me reconnect with my partner, and have our own space. Devon helped me stay in the moment and be present. No matter where you travel to in January, let it change your life. This year alone, I am planning to go to Barcelona, Greece, Italy, and Madeira. For someone whose trip to Sri Lanka in 2023 was the first one abroad in four years, it’s a change I welcome. Whether you are travelling on your own, in a couple, with a friend or a big group, plan your travels now.
As someone who is on a budget, I always said to myself that I couldn’t afford to travel. But then I realized it was about prioritizing what was important. Travel is important to me because it opens up my mind. It helps me conquer my fears and do things that scare me. In Sri Lanka I faced my fears of social anxiety, claustrophobia and heights head on. Even going on the trip scared me. I was terrified that I would have panic attacks in front of people. That I would cry. That I would have low moods. That I would get misunderstood. All of these things happened and more. But just because I was proved right dosen’t mean I regret my choices. For better or worse, it changed my life. It’s easy to see that booking a trip can boost your mental wellbeing. You feel excited in anticipation of what is to come. You start imagining the trip in your head. You explore travel options and research potential destinations. There are so many places I want to go to, but I often worry about money. And yet, I have learned to priortize my finances. I travel on cheap tickets, booking months in advance. I look out for discounts to save money. I stay in cheap accomodation or with people I know. From Cheap Disneyland Paris holidays to retreats in Greece, right through to road trips through the US, the possibilities are endless. Its about broadening your horizons but being mindful. Remember, your mental health issues can flare up on travels. I get anxious when things go wrong and when I am in an environment I am not familuar with. When this happens, I take time to understand what is happening, and why I feel this way. Travel or not, your mental health goes with you.
Set Realistic Goals And Prioritise Self-Care
People set resolutions, but I set goals. I find that goal-setting helps me be more proactive about my mental health. It can be all too easy to place an emphasis on our physical health. After all, people can see when you are feeling ill physically. But when you are anxious, depressed or overwhelmed, it might be harder for people to understand. Take it from me. I come across as very calm and grounded if a little crazy and yet the reality is different. I am erratic, emotional and over the top. I break down often, and struggle to deal with my emotions. I get triggered easily, and find even the smallest of things difficult. Everything is blown out of proportion in my mind, and I struggle to be realistic. Which is why beating the January Blues is about setting realistic goals while nurturing self-care. It can be easy to get caught up in the adrenaline of setting goals. But when you set yourself up to high, the come down can be traumatic. I always have such high expectations because I am a perfectionist. But being a perfectionist can get in the way of you achieving goals. If you are like me you might avoid certain tasks because you are worried that you will fail. Guess what though? Making mistakes is what helps you progress mentally, physically, and personally. When you set small, measurable goals, it can boost your accomplishment. On days where my mental health is particularly chronic, a goal might be to carve out an hour for myself. This might be me having a bubble bath, reading a bath, taking a walk or playing with my cats. Of course, I have bigger goals too. In 2024, I want to travel more. I want to work with a trauma specialist to help me with my chronic anxiety. I want to have better physical health. Most of all, I want to be happy.
For now, I am trying to stay more present. In January it can be all too easy to get ahead of yourself. To feel disgruntled because it is difficult financially, as well as emotionally. I find winter hard because it makes me feel worse. I long for summer days, where the sun embalms me in its golden rays. My tongue swirling around a tropical Solero, ice cream dripping down my chin. Winter feels slow, yet oddly fast faced at the same time. Which is why priortizing your self-care is one of the best mental health hacks. Imagine a car spluttering. Its tyres are run down, its run out of gas, and it is streaked in dirt. That’s how I feel. Burnt out, overwhelmed and quite literally broken. Allocating time for self-care helps you put ‘gas back into the car’. Do something small every day. I know some people like to have a set routine. But for me what works one day might not work another. Tonight, I will have a nourishing meal, and once cleaning is over, I will play with my cats. Tomorrow I will read a new book in a bubble bath. The day after I might go and catch up with a friend. Just don’t be hard on yourself. It is in my nature to treat self-care like a challenge but it shouldn’t be. It is not a chore. It is not a hobby. Mental health hacks like setting goals is a way of life. I know that I can overthink, and spiral when I try to relax. But at the same time I know that the more I practice, the more my mind ( and body) will understand it is healthy.
Seek Professional Support If Needed
In 2018, there was a phone call that changed my life. I was suicidal, thought about taking my own life. In emotional and physical pain. I didn’t want to live. But at the same time I didn’t want to die either. I was scared of dying, even if my mind was trying to convince me otherwise. I got professional help, and for the last six years I have been in and out of therapy. From CBT, to mindfulness, counselling and pschotherapy, I have been proactive about my mental health. But never in that time was I given support with my trauma. None of the professionals were trained to deal with the level of trauma I had been through. I don’t blame the NHS, in fact I am grateful for them. But at the same time, the fact that you need to be completely broken to get help, hurts me. It took me being suicidal to get the support I needed. But all the therapies I had after, I had to wait a long time to get help. Right now, I am in limbo. I am in desperate need of trauma support. I have found that medication dosen’t work for me, and use natural when I can. But how would we know that everything from our diet to our lifestyle, and even relationships can impact our mental health? I had a massive overhaul. I began eating better, and priortizing my needs. I went to therapy. On paper I was getting the help I needed. But the truth is there is so many unanswered questions. The last therapist I had was amazing. Although a student, she was a Psychotherapist that was understanding, kind and non-judgemental. I had many major breakdowns during our sessions and out of them. In a smear test I was hyperventilating struggling my anxiety. They put me on antidepressants and got a consultant to talk to me. He believed I had other undiagnosed mental health issues, that were personality disorders. But here’s the catch. Because I wasn’t self-harming at the time, and was already in therapy they said they couldn’t help me. My therapist tried to help me, but there was nothing they could do.
It makes me angry to know that you have to be on the edge to get help. But with someone like me, I am always on the edge. I want to get better though. Its why I always try and get help. I know it takes time. I know it is uncomfortable. Sometimes it can make you feel worse. It can become overwhelming, but I will always extol the benefits of mental health support. And that is coming from someone like me who has been failed by so many systems. There is so much strength in getting help. I know society can paint a negative picture of mental health. Just look at Britney Spears who was vilified by the press and taunted for her mental health battles. We might think that society is more understanding today. However, you only need to look at the #bekind movement to see that the reality is so different. We are labelled as crazy. Seen as unstable. The truth is, we need love, help and support. We need compassion, and help navigating our emotions. We need tools that can help us in times of crisis. I know that confronting your mental health head on is scary. It scares me too. But if you repress your emotions, you are only going to feel worse. No matter what people think, its not a bad thing to cry. It is healthy. Its not weird to have panic attacks. It is normal to feel overwhelmed. I want to be kinder to myself this year. I want to work less, live more, and feel more. I know that my emotions are a rollercoaster. I feel things strongly, and can be manic. But having support means you are never alone even if you feel like you are.
Your mental health matters.
What Mental Health Hacks Help You In January?
Want some bonus mental health hacks?
- Discover a new hobby to bring happiness
- Eat a well balanced and nourished diet
- Stay present and grounded in the moment
- Spend time around animals and nature