Winter Survival Kit

As it's World Mental Health Day I have taken some time out to write this reflective post.  Many people write about mental health, wellbeing and mindfulness. Despite my lengthy history with anxiety and depression I have never written anything down like this before.

As the nights draw in and the days shorten I am aware that my health may suffer.  It is especially true if I don't make an extra-special effort to take care of me.  My battles with social anxiety and low mood have been a long-running affair that can be traced back to my teenage years.

I have always been an inward-looking soul.  People that know me would describe me as a thoughtful, emotive person with a streak of shyness.  Through my love of plants and wildlife I have found a platform on which I can express my creativity.  My urge to nurture and to brighten up every corner of the planet manifests itself in the work I do outside.  

As these opportunities become scarce over the winter months I like to find joy and comfort in other areas of my life which, along with gardening, have helped me to build resilience.

My biggest challenge is finding ways to remove myself from the drowning feeling I can experience in my thoughts and dreams, the general heaviness in my being that stays around like a bad smell every now and then.  Staying connected to my surroundings and losing that fuzziness, is my biggest challenge over the winter.  

Life experience has aided me in the development of coping strategies that get me through these moments.  It is also useful for me to tell myself that I'll feel different tomorrow after a good nights sleep.  Occasionally though I need a reminder of that which comprises, what I like to call, my Winter Survival Kit.  Some literature that I like to revisit to help me in this quest includes Matt Haigs self-help book and this authored by gardening royalty.

My Winter Survival Kit:

Reading - I've bought several gardening books recently to see me through the depths of winter.  I'm resisting the temptation to open them just yet but i've gone for content that will help me plan for next year and that will accompany my study.  In addition, I am going to revisit some older favourites too.  Its not just horticultural books that give me a distraction, I also read other novels, favouring the works of Patrick Gale, P.D.James and David Leavitt.

Art - Even if I don't manage to get the watercolours out this year, I have some fabulous literature to read that will provide me with inspiration.  I will try to fit in an art show over the winter too, perhaps a trip to London? I shall have to do some research to see what is on.

Exercise - My drug of choice is running and has been for the last 4 years since I stopped smoking.  The biggest hurdle for me was getting outside, that anxiety to step out of the door in shorts, tee and running shoes was enormous.  However, I overcame this psychological barrier by running before 8am on a weekend, less people, less traffic etc.  Since then i've grown in confidence and have even completed a Parkrun with 600+ other runners and a charity fun-run.  The feeling I get from running provides me with total unadulterated euphoria.

Music - For me music is pure escapism.  From minimal trance through to pure pop  I love loads of genres and become completely immersed.  Over the cold months I find that the more camp and uplifting the beats are, the better for breaking the cycle of a depressive state of mind.  

Time - Giving myself extra time to do things, having more baths and less showers, drinking less coffee, not putting additional pressure on myself, waking early for work so that I can leave by 4pm, going to bed earlier and having lie-ins at the weekend.  These are all small things that make a big difference.

Comfort zone - I love mine, there is nothing better than cuddling up under a wooly throw on an oversized settee to watch a film with a massive bag of sweet and savoury popcorn.  However, I am breaking free of mine this year with my enrolment on an RHS qualification.  I can already distinguish between a Dutch, Draw and Onion Hoe and how to measure in spits and I'm meeting new people with a similar interest, so it's a win-win situation.

Family - I have grown closer to these guys over the last 10 years.  My partner provides me with strength too.  I've learn't that having someone to talk to really brings perspective. 


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