Smiling through the new winter of discontent
This winter we are facing strikes, soaring bills and freezing weather. It can all feel overwhelming and difficult, but there are ways to manage your feelings through difficult times like this.
“Now is the winter of our discontent.” It’s a line penned by Shakespeare, but for many it brings back thoughts of soaring costs, severe weather, rife strike action and talk show guests telling you how to turn everyday items into insulation. That was all more than 40 years ago, yet it’s incredibly familiar to those with much shorter memories as the winter of 2022 looks more and more similar to that of the late 1970s.
Analysis from the BBC’s Ros Atkins puts today’s issues down to the war in Ukraine, climate change, supply chain issues, labour shortages, taxation changes and increased post-pandemic demand – to name but a few.
These are global issues but, as Atkins says, “what is global in nature, is personal in its consequences.
Especially in winter.”
In the 1970s a certain day was labelled ‘Misery Monday.’ Today then it’s unsurprising that all of these pressures, scary headlines and extra concerns can take their toll on our mental health and wellbeing.
A report in March 2022 from foodbank provider The Trussell Trust found that “many people are already experiencing negative mental health impacts as a result of struggling to make ends meet, and anticipate that the rising cost of living will only make this worse.”
Helen Ellerington, psychological wellbeing practitioner at Sheffield Health and Social Care’s (SHSC) Improving Access
to Psychological Therapies service, says this is completely understandable.
“You only have to have conversations with people you know and how quickly does the conversation come round to either the rising cost of food prices or fuel prices or mortgage rates,” she says.
“I think so many people are feeling the impact of what is going on and I think a lot of people are affected in that. They’re feeling more anxious, more stressed and more worried.”
You might notice you’re more tense than usual in your shoulders and back. You could have headaches, an increased heartrate and shortness of breath, feeling shaky and irritable and struggling with your sleep. You may also find that your thoughts are a lot more negative, jumping to the worst case scenario – maybe catastrophising about struggling to pay bills or even being kicked out of your home. Ultimately, you might not be enjoying the things that you like to do as much anymore.
This might all seem really difficult, but Helen says there are actually some simple steps we can take within our control to make ourselves feel better.
She says: “The first thing that I’d always say is, because what we’re going through is affecting so many people, talk to the people around you. It’s really helpful actually just to acknowledge how you’re feeling and there’s something really powerful in sharing that and then actually hearing someone else say, ‘do you know what I feel really similar’.”
Helen suggests taking a step back and working out what is in your power to do and what practical steps you can take.
“It might be that you are able to contact an energy provider, for example. It might be just thinking about being a little bit more structured with budgeting. Everything feels out of control, but actually are there some simple steps that you can take to access some practical support?” Helen asks.
Routine helps too, including the things you do for fun. It might be that you need to get creative with some of those. Consider swapping the gym for Saturday Parkruns, or heading round to a mate’s house instead of meeting out somewhere else.
And remember the power of fresh air, activity and good sleep.
Helen says: “Light movement - I think that helps us to process things. Take a few deep breaths. If you’re feeling anxious, everything speeds up. If we can do things like breathing exercises, it slows down those processes.
“And also having a good routine around sleep, putting our devices down an hour before bed, maybe reading, doing something more relaxing. All of those things are just going to help to build resilience within the context that we’re living in at the moment.”
Of course, in this overwhelming world, trying to make changes to your own life can feel like an extra burden. Helen advises to do these gradually and be kind to yourself in the process.
“As a starting point think, ‘okay, what is one thing can I do today?’ And then once you start to build that in, build that in for a while, that then becomes a habit. ‘Okay, what else can I add into my routine?’ It might be just those really simple things day-to-day, but just build up really gradually.
“There will be days that feel easier than others and that’s okay. But just always try and come back to what it is you do that you know is helpful for yourself.”
When things are hard, the world can feel lonely and scary. But this is one situation where we are all in this together, whatever our individual circumstances. We’ve been here before and we’ve come through difficult periods. So take the time to try these simple steps to help yourself, and those around you. Even if the mercury drops below zero, we can feel like glorious summer by the sun inside ourselves.