Welcome everyone, to week 6 of my What Makes You Happy? guest series. This week we meet Karen, a fellow anxiety and depression sufferer, who shares some great tips with us which I’m sure we’ll all be able to relate to. As with each of the posts preceding this one, I love how you can feel the writer’s happiness through the words and you can’t help but be left smiling…
Hello! I’m Karen, a thirty-something year-old librarian with a passion for music, cake and steampunk. I also have anxiety and depression. I’m thrilled to have been asked to write a guest post for What Makes You Happy? by the lovely Katie, and I think it’s a brilliant theme for a series.
Mostly when I write, it’s only in a journal for myself, and when I tweet on @musicellonista, it’s usually to share articles I’ve found helpful rather than my own advice, so I was a little bit terrified about putting together a blog post that somebody else might actually read! As it happens, this has coincided with a couple of extra challenging weeks that have really highlighted what gets me through difficult times, so all of the activities below have been recently tried and tested. Everything I’ve listed can make me happy on a good day, and even on the days when happiness feels too far out of reach, these will usually help me focus on something positive or improve my mood enough that things feel bearable and I can keep going. I was surprised by how much I could list once I started – so, if one technique isn’t working, there’s always another option to try! I’ve enjoyed reading all of the previous posts in the series, and have noticed some familiar themes that seem to keep popping up, so here’s my own take on these and a few new ones.
Here we go…
- Listening to music – Picking the right tracks to listen to can lift my mood when I feel things starting to wobble or, if they’re already bad, it can often stop them descending into an even worse place. Earphones, alongside my keys, purse and phone, are an essential item to me, not a luxury. Noise-cancelling ones can also block out background noise, and even when I don’t want to listen to anything I sometimes put my earbuds in on public transport for some peace. Music can also be the only thing that helps me with insomnia.
- Singing – I see this differently to just listening to music, as singing requires you to actively engage and I often find myself thinking: I’ve got precious little energy to start with, so why waste it? But even when I don’t feel like it, I can’t help myself: if I don’t have an audience (often in my car) it’s guaranteed as soon as the tracks are playing I’ll be singing along. Loudly. It does help to release some emotions when there’s no more space in my head for them. And I always feel better for it.
- Connecting with friends – Sometimes even reaching out to those who know something about your struggles and support you feels like the hardest thing to do, or you can’t find the right words. So I’ll use instant messages or the Snapchat app to send photos, short videos or GIFs to a friend. You don’t have to take a selfie, though face filters can be fun: searching for something unusual or interesting in my surroundings to send can act like a grounding technique to distract me if I’m struggling with negative thoughts. Sending a positive message or picture to brighten up someone else’s day can help lift my own mood too, whether I’m already feeling happy or not. It’s also a quick and simple way to remind myself that I’m not as alone as the voice of depression keeps trying to convince me I am. The concise format of Twitter can make it really easy to send and receive support, whether you connect directly with other tweeters, or the wealth of daily articles on mental health (beware fake news!). Although, like many others I’ve spoken to on social media, I have to be mindful of spending too much time tweeting and pull back a bit when I notice it becoming an unhealthy obsession.
- Going for a walk – I am lucky that both my workplace and home are close to some beautiful nature-rich areas which I try to make the most of to get my daily Vitamin D. I also have a clock radio alarm with wake-up lamp that will simulate sunrise if it’s dark at the time I need to get up, as I find this helps me feel a little more alert and ready to face the day.
- Work – I’m fortunate that I love my job and have good friends amongst my colleagues who are always willing to help out with work and there for a chat if I need it. The nature of my work requires a high level of attention to detail, so getting stuck in to a complicated task keeps my mind busy away from other less helpful thoughts, and once I’ve completed it, I get a boost from having achieved something.
- Treating myself to lunch or coffee out – Finding a coffee shop with a welcoming, cosy atmosphere, asking for a cup to drink in rather than a takeaway, for no reason other than taking time to stop and do something for myself without having the looming pressure of a deadline or errand to complete.
- Spending time with animals – Growing up, I was quite scared of dogs, but I now have good friends with their own pets that I’ve become very well acquainted with. In fact, I recently offered to ‘dogsit’ for a few days whilst some of my friends were away. I’d had a particularly rubbish day that week and was dreading an evening without human company. However, after I opened the front door and nearly got knocked off my feet by an enthusiastic (and slobbery!) welcome from two giant fluffy bundles of cuteness, I definitely felt happier – and calmer too. Stroking dogs and cats, or just spending time with them curled up next to me, tends to have that effect, and the feeling always seems to be mutual as far as I can tell, so it’s a win-win situation.
- Reading – Ever since I was little, I have loved reading, and as I now work in a library, I’d say the habit stuck! Escaping into the completely different world of a fantasy or science fiction novel and reading about characters so real they jump off the page has always been something I enjoy, and can be an effective way to give yourself some space from reality for a while if you can’t afford to spend a lot to get away (local libraries have plenty of choices as well as bookshops). Some of my favourite authors are Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett and Brandon Sanderson.
- Getting creative – As well as listening to music or singing, I also enjoy: colouring books; designing (and occasionally making) steampunk accessories and jewellery; and playing the cello in a couple of local orchestras (creative AND social fun!).
We each have different things that help to pick us up and make us smile, so not all of these will work for everyone, but if you were looking for ideas, I hope my personal take on What Makes You Happy has helped you to find some inspiration. I think I should add Writing to my list as well, because putting this post together has left a smile on my face!