Mental health: Caring for your mind

As winter continues, looking after your mental health, seeking support and acknowledging how you are feeling is essential.

With dark, cold days, the latter months of the winter can be especially difficult to cope with for some people. According to NHS Inform, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), sometimes referred to as the winter blues, affects around two million people in the UK each year. SAD is a type of depression that occurs at a particular time of year, most commonly in the winter months, but this time and the stresses of current events can put your mental health under additional pressure. 

Mental health problems can begin to affect every area of your life from employment to personal relationships, so seeking support is essential. 

Stress

Over the last year, disabled people were more likely to report being very worried about the rising cost of living than non-disabled people, with 82 per cent of disabled people concerned in comparison to 75 per cent of non-disabled people. The additional pressures that have come with the start of the year – higher energy bills that are set to increase in April, the cost of food and the cost of keeping essential equipment on – can cause feelings of extreme stress or being overwhelmed. 

More immediate financial support is needed to ease this stress along with long-term systematic change to protect disabled people in these scenarios, but until this happens, reaching out for help or learning about ways to better cope with stress can help. 

Organisations like the Stress Management Society (www.stress.org.uk) provide information about stress and tips on how to cope. 

Anxiety

Like stress, everyone experiences anxiety, but the impact this has on your life can determine whether this a problem you should seek support for or not. If feelings of anxiety start to take over everyday life, preventing you from going about your day-to-day, it could be time to reach out for help or information to better understand how to cope. Anxiety can be hard to label if you haven’t experienced it before, but normally manifests in three ways: through psychological, physical or behavioural symptoms. 

These symptoms can include, but aren’t limited to, increased heart rate, nausea, feeling worried that you’re losing control, and muscle tension. While anxiety can affect anyone, it can be detrimental for people with health conditions that can have flare ups, like auto-immune conditions. Organisations like Anxiety UK (www.anxietyuk.org.uk) can offer advice, support and other help if you feel like anxiety is affecting your day-to-day life. 

Imposter syndrome

According to job site Indeed, three in five workers experience imposter syndrome, with women and young people more affected by feelings of self-doubt. For disabled people, in particular people who have a non-visible disability, this may be a familiar feeling that you haven’t put a name to in the past. You could be experiencing imposter syndrome if you are doubting your skills, accomplishments or right to be in a particular job or situation. This can happen to different severities, whether it’s a passing thought that you aren’t qualified for the role you’re in at work, or something that bothers you every time you enter a workplace. 

These feelings don’t only exist in the workplace, you may experience them when receiving care, attending a local support group, or visiting a day centre. Imposter syndrome can stop you pursuing opportunities that you might have otherwise, or have a wider impact on your overall mental health. A good way to combat these feelings is to remember all of the reasons you deserve to be where you are, whether that’s reminding yourself of the skills you have, formal qualifications, life experience, or a passion for the area you’re working in. 

Starting an open conversation with your colleagues about how you’re feeling can help you overcome imposter syndrome, and you might find that some of your peers feel the same way. 

Respite

Periods of respite, whether they are as short as a couple of hours or for a week at a time, can provide a lifeline when you are struggling with your mental health. This is especially important if you feel like you are reaching breaking point or like you can’t provide the necessary care to your loved one due to the strain on your mental health. 

Respite can come with support from people in your family or your friends, or from professionals. If you are a carer, asking someone close to you to spend as little as an hour with the person you care for so that you can take some time to yourself can make a big difference, especially if this becomes a monthly or weekly routine. 

If you are struggling to take care of yourself or keep up with necessary care practices to support your physical health, opening up to someone close to you about how you’re feeling can help you understand why this is and form a plan on how to tackle this moving forward. Equally, you could contact a professional or an impartial helpline to have this conversation, whether you want to do it over the phone, through text message, or online live chat. 

Learn about mental health problems and how to seek support through the Mental Health Foundation (www.mentalhealth.org.uk).

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