It’s a Blue Monday like no other – the saddest day in the calendar year, after 12 months of turmoil, with weeks to go until lockdown restrictions lift. Here, as part of The Telegraph’s Mental Health Emergency campaign, prominent mental health figures share the tips and mantras they’ve learned to help them cope when times are tough.
‘Everything – even this – passes eventually’
Marian Keyes, bestselling author(pictured above second from the left)
Life can seem irretrievably bleak, but if you wait it out, it will change. That goes for long bouts of depression just as much as it does a particularly bad day in lockdown. Breaking time down into manageable chunks is what enables me to do that waiting. Now, when I feel frightened, anxious or just very bleak, I try to divide the day into half-hour increments. I tell myself that all I have to do is to get through the next half an hour. It takes effort – it’s a deliberate decision to take things one step at a time and not get overwhelmed by the relentlessness of a dark period. But it’s worth it because in a week, or three months, or a year, life will be very different. Things will get better.
I think people are still expecting too much of themselves at the moment. Try to build rewards into your day. Small things like doing a sudoku or having a nice cup of coffee. When everything feels overwhelming and there’s nothing good to look forward to, making everything very small is the only way I can manage. But you’d be surprised by how much of a positive effect it can have.
I also try to control how much negativity I allow into my day.
I counteract doomscrolling with conversation. I’ll call someone I’ve been on holiday with and remember everything that was lovely about it. It has a huge effect on me, lifting my mood and reminding me that life isn’t always going to be as grey and gruelling as it is now.
Marian’s latest book, Grown Ups, is out in paperback on February 4
‘Name what you’re feeling’
Julia Samuel MBE, psychotherapist
Acknowledge how difficult things are, and face the darkness in all of its hues. Your resources may have run low and you feel like you’re walking through mud. Perhaps you’re fed up with everybody; you’re angry with your husband, your children; you hate being alone, you hate wretched Covid. Name what you’re finding difficult and maybe even write it down. Do that every day, multiple times a day if you need to. It isn’t self-indulgent, it’s realistic. You can’t fight this so you have to acknowledge what you’re struggling with in order to expel it.
Then, you have to intentionally turn your attention to the light. Find what you can do and what you can change. Altruism is key – helping others helps you. Connect with other people, watch funny things on television, listen to nourishing podcasts, and get outside. Move your body and breathe the fresh air; it’ll shift your perspective.
Finally, keep it in the day. Don’t let anger or anxiety seep from one day to the next. Get it out when it’s there, because that low-level upset that doesn’t really have a target contaminates everything. Emotions are transmitters of information – they’re there to tell you something is not right. It helps immeasurably to get them out, and to remind yourself that they don’t last forever.
Julia is the author of This Too Shall Pass: Stories of Change, Crisis and Hopeful Beginnings
‘Accept yourself – and know that most things are out of your control’
Jessie Burton, bestselling author
I’ve received many pearls of wisdom over the years about how not to be bogged down by anxious, perfectionist, obsessive thoughts, and they boil down to this. If you can face, understand and accept the less appealing aspects of yourself, as difficult as that might be, then your relationships with others will also become more honest, authentic and enjoyable. You may even stop comparing yourself with others and finding yourself, or them, wanting. The caveat to this is that the journey of self-acceptance is lifelong, and will possibly never be resolved.
We are endlessly bombarded by the idea that self-improvement is imperative and infinite. The filtered self you are in public – all the good bits, achieving things, being seen – you should know her limitations, and be sympathetic to her. She’s there for a reason, just trying to take part. However, if you end up valuing your worth entirely by what you achieve in the eyes of others, one day that mechanism will fail to make you feel safe or valued.
Events will happen to you that have nothing to do with how ‘good’ or high-achieving you are, and most of life is out of your control, despite what advertising might make you want to think. The thoughts that rush through your mind in great quantity are not the tissues of your soul. They’re just thoughts. They do not define you. You are continually changing, for good and bad, even when you don’t realise it. You are not on a predestined, linear ascent towards perfection. The best you can do is the best you can do. There is no better measure in the world for what that means, than clear-eyed self-acceptance.
Jessie Burton is the author of The Confession, out now in paperback
‘You are enough’
John Whaite, former Bake Off winner
Anxiety can be crippling. It tenses our bodies like rigor mortis, turning us into the living dead. It grinds our teeth beyond our control; before we know it, our jaws are locked tight and our hands are furled into fists. But it can also act insidiously, creeping up on us in the middle of the night. Without realising it we stare into space, ignore loved ones, panic about ordinarily small tasks.
The current state of the world certainly doesn’t help. While it is, in theory, the perfect opportunity to take stock, count our blessings, we all have our own ways of reacting to the pandemic. And when you’re already to prone to mental health downturns, this opportunity is merely an added pressure – just like ‘new year new me’.
Words really are cheap when it comes to discussing how to cope with anxiety. But as someone who has dealt with near-death anxiety, as someone who is consciously vulnerable, I pray I can offer you words with weight. Look at yourself every day, either in the mirror or simply inspect every nook and cranny of your hands. Say to yourself: “I am enough. I know my limits and I know my boundaries, and I will no longer mistake those for weakness.”
‘What you become has consequences’
Joe Tracini, comedian
In 2011 I was in rehab for the third time (I was a drug addict. I’m, thankfully, eight years clean now).
One of my therapists was called Arthur, a bellowing, kind hearted Puerto Rican who never said no to a hug. At the time, I really wanted to keep doing all the drugs – death didn’t bother me, but no drugs was an issue. He helped change my life in a few sentences.
“What you live you learn. What you learn you practise. What you practise you become. And what you become has consequences.”
It’s saying that whatever you do the most is what you’ll turn into, and what you turn into is going to cause loads of other stuff to happen as you move forwards in your life.
I loved the quote so much I walked out of the therapy session and straight into a tattoo shop to have it put on my arm forever.
This didn’t end well for two reasons. First, it turns out one of the main rules of the rehab was you weren’t allowed anywhere near needles, so I got a written warning for that; and second, the tattoo is horrific. It looks like it’s been done by a toddler.