December can be a wobbly month for me. It's not just the ever lengthening to-do list: it's also the memory of experiencing a major depressive episode, which happened at this time of year.
It was brought on by being overwhelmed, anxious, and trying to do too much, most notably throwing a neighbourhood Christmas party. I ended up leaving my own get-together and creeping home to my mother's house where I collapsed.
Now, nearly a decade later, I am blessed to feel calm and well. Of course life isn't always smooth, and some times of year need careful handling, but I do feel I've now got my Black Dog on a tight leash. While I don't wish depression on anyone, suffering from mental illness has made me who I am and has forced upon me some hard-won lessons about how to care for my own mental health.
I now rely on an eclectic mix of strategies, a salad bowl of approaches that keep me steady. I use diet, breathing techniques, prayer, poetry, exercise, and a sprinkling of mindfulness, which, taken together may not lead directly to happiness, but it often follows as a by-product.
Such is the paradoxical nature of happiness: you cannot simply become happy, like flicking a switch in your head. Rather happiness is often an indirect consequence of the way we think and our actions, whether it's tending a garden on helping others.
The other thing I've learnt is that small steps work best. They are not only achievable but add up and have been the easiest way for me to make sustainable changes. I've found that every time I try a more dramatic approach, I set the bar too high and end up feeling a failure.
It's proved helpful to be aware of the particular pressure of different times of year. So this year we did throw a party, but it was a small one. What small step could you take to make 2016 a year when you walk on sunshine?
A Moodscope member.
Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness is published by Short Books and is available for purchase on Amazon. For more information please follow Rachel on Twitter @RachelKellyNet or visit www.rachel-kelly.net.
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