“Self care” can be a challenge. If you are living with the impact of trauma, suffer from depression, or, like a number of survivors of sexual violence, struggle with low self-worth, it can be hard to find the energy or motivation to do what we know (and are frequently told) would be good for us.

At this time of year, it can be even harder. Whatever the Holidays mean to us, we can be left wiped out or deflated when the festivities are over come January. The cold weather, short days, and grey skies can affect the most optimistic of people, let alone someone living with Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD). And then, of course, we have a pandemic to contend with…

In short – it makes total sense that today might feel like a struggle. And I can understand that sometimes it can be hard not to reach for whatever we use to try to quash our pain, whether it be a bottle of wine, a credit card, or whatever it is that gives us instant relief even if we know it comes at a cost. But there are small things that we can do that might make us feel a little bit better. What I’m talking about are small, achievable actions that may offer a little comfort when there isn’t a magic cure. Things that take the edge off and make things a little more bearable whilst we work our way through the gloom – and the pain.

Get Real

At this time of year, it can be tempting to set ourselves a number of unrealistic New Years Resolutions that we know we will never be able to achieve. And whilst it’s always good to make positive changes to our lives, setting ourselves up to fail is more likely going to make us feel worse in the long run. Instead, it might be useful to reflect on what you need physically and emotionally right now and think about small steps you can take towards meeting them. For example, the thought of losing weight and getting fit might feel overwhelming, but going out for a 5-minute walk might feel achievable…

Get Out

… which leads me onto my next tip! It can feel like a chore, but being outdoors can do wonders. Getting some sun on our skin (yes, even just our face) gives our Vitamin D levels a much-needed boost, which is great for our physical and mental health. Going for a walk also gives the added benefits of a bit of exercise whilst also helping us feel more connected to the outside world and nature – even if it is just the trees that line your street. If going for a walk feels too much, sitting out on a balcony or bench in a warm coat and a cup of tea still has its benefits. Remember – small steps.

Stay Connected

Whilst going out to stretch your legs gives us the chance to say hello to our neighbour and share a smile with the dog walkers, keeping up contact with others during the winter – and lockdown – will help ward off feelings of isolation and improve our overall mental well-being. If having a full-blown telephone conversation or Zoom chat with friends or family feels overwhelming, a text message exchange or email can feel more manageable and boundaried. If you feel you have no-one who you can contact, our online helpline is available every day except bank holidays, from 12-8pm.

Eat Well and Warm

Comfort food certainly has its place in the winter months, but that doesn’t have to mean unhealthy food. A bowl of soup or stew packed full of veggies can be tasty, warming, and incredibly comforting – and is relatively easy to make. Cooking some vegetables in stock and then blitzing them in a blender with a few herbs and spices (or just salt and pepper) makes a thick, creamy bowl of goodness. If you’ve not got the energy or inclination for cooking, there’s nothing quite like cream of tomato soup out of a can – and a hot cup of tea, herbal or otherwise. Feeling under the weather? Try a mug of boiled water with a slice of lemon, ginger, and a teaspoon of honey. Lovely!

Be Kind To Yourself

There are lots of little things we can do to look after ourselves, from walking outside to eating well and staying in touch with our support networks. But sometimes it’s okay to do nothing much at all. We can often feel pressure to do the things we are told are good for us, but there’s nothing wrong with sitting on the sofa under a blanket with a good book or a box set for company once in a while.

Again, it’s important to listen to what we need, and sometimes that’s rest. What that rest looks like is different for different people. Some of us like to meditate, others find getting lost in a jigsaw restorative, and I know I’m not alone in finding crafting relaxing. So put your feet up and chill.

Just Show Up

Finally, however challenging something might seem, just showing up is always the first step. Whether it’s to a phone call with a friend, an online yoga class, or a therapy session, if we don’t turn up, we will never know what the outcome might be – whether it be a sense of connection, a feeling of achievement or a deeper understanding of ourselves. Change has to start somewhere, so take a deep breath and show up.

By Michelle Buckberry

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