With the end of the year quickly approaching, it brings with it a period of busyness, holidays, time with family and traditional celebrations. But for many women, the end of the year can also be a gauntlet to navigate, causing a host of anxiety and stress-inducing triggers. There’s the year to reflect on – it’s failings and successes, expectations to create the perfect festive season, financial pressures, spending time in close proximity to family and, perhaps, difficult relationships, or for some it can be a time of severe isolation or when a loss is most heavily felt. And for those already living with a mental illness, it can increase symptoms of depression and anxiety.
In my personal life, I have experienced the effects of a mood disorder, called cyclothymia, which was misdiagnosed and mistreated as depression for 21 years. I remember the first Christmas we spent in Brazil, having just moved to a small, farm town the month before to take over the family business. It was a complete disaster! Not only was I dealing with a
different culture, but I didn’t speak the language and was far from all my friends and family in South Africa. I felt like I had hit rock bottom emotionally. The language barrier prevented me from communicating with my new family and it was incredibly difficult to make friends because of it, leaving me feeling alone and isolated during a time when everybody else was feeling a sense of togetherness. I even opted out of Christmas lunch, rather choosing to be alone. I was really taking strain mentally and emotionally, and experienced severe social anxiety the first year or so. It was only through time, learning Portuguese (work in progress), and working with a coach, psychiatrist, psychologist and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) practitioner, as well as my ongoing commitment to self-discovery and personal growth work, that I was able to finally came to a place of acceptance, healing, fulfilment and happiness again. I really did need a whole team of people supporting me through this challenging time.
I therefore believe it is crucial for those feeling anxious or depressed, especially at this time of year, to seek help, get diagnosed and try and figure out the right course of action, whether through therapy, coaching or medication. Seeking treatment is an empowering action which will leave you with a greater sense of happiness and wellbeing in your life and enable you to become more resilient and confident when dealing with challenges and difficult social situations. Mental health issues are not a life sentence. I lead a very satisfying and happy life, in spite of my mood disorder. I no longer consider it a handicap, but a strength. By taking care of myself, I feel well and stable and don’t have depressive or manic episodes anymore.
Self-compassion and self-care are therefore my top priorities. Kristin Neff, the world’s leading researcher in self-compassion, says that ‘having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness. Things will not always go the way you want them to’. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. Kristin talks about three essential components to self-compassion:
– Show yourself kindness, understanding and warmth – just as you do others in suffering circumstances. Let go of self-judgement and self-criticism. Do what you need to in order to soothe any pain or suffering which you may be experiencing.
This December, I am encouraging you to approach this busy time of year with self-compassion. Show yourself kindness and go into the holidays with realistic expectations, setting boundaries to protect yourself and your needs. Where possible, avoid triggers which can cause you unnecessary mental and physical drain, or derail positive actions towards addictive or self-sabotaging behaviour. I want you to know that help is available, and you should reach out if you need to. You can live a very rewarding life, especially if you choose to take care of yourself. Self-compassion will help you deal with the stress and demands of this busy period, forcing you to live in the moment and be present in your life to make meaningful connections and memories.