Thursday, 14 September 2017

Coping with the End of Summer Blues

If you're familiar with the film Breakfast At Tiffany's you might also be familiar with the term "the mean reds," a poetic term used by the protagonist Holly Golightly to describe a brooding sense of panic and hopelessness that makes you look for the nearest happy place. In her case it was Tiffany's because, as she explains in the movie, "nothing very bad could happen to you there."

I usually get my own dose of the mean reds at this time of year. With the summer waning and holidays a distant memory, I struggle with the knowledge that dark days beckon and the end of another year is looming. Feelings that lay dormant over the lazy days of a routine-free summer start to crowd my mind again: Are the kids doing okay at school? Should we do that loft conversion we keep talking about? Why have I STILL not put any money into my pension? When did the house become such a mess? How have I failed to do all those things I said I was going to do at the start of the year? You're useless, look - everyone else is doing lots of useful, life enhancing stuff ALL THE TIME!

The other day on the school run I found myself feeling particularly teary. I was missing a best friend who passed away earlier in the year, and thoughts like the above mingled with a deep longing to return to the wonderful suspension of reality that accompanied our summer holiday. I was feeling anxious about work and mindful of the need to pay off a looming post-holiday credit card bill. I was also feeling exceedingly tired of the relentless rain. That's the trouble with wonderful holidays - they bring the mundane, difficult realities of real, everyday life into sharp relief when the holiday is over.

Luckily I have found some mechanisms to help keep these feelings in check. I will always find this time of year difficult, but there are some things I've always done, and some things I've made an effort to do more recently, which are currently helping to keep the mean reds at bay...


I've always been a walker. Driving in the city is not something I enjoy, and with Bristol's roads becoming ever more crowded and aggressive, I avoid it wherever possible. There's something about the rhythm of walking I find very calming; combined with listening to a podcast or something on Spotify a walk around the Downs, on my own, away, wherever possible from the traffic, always makes my mind slow down. When I run, I feel like I have to push myself and can often get frustrated by my lack of stamina. 

But walking - with no particular purpose or requirement to reach any particular destination - is perhaps the most effective way I've found to deal with stress. On the days I work from home, I go out for a walk whatever the weather, either as an add-on to the school run or during my lunch hour. And my walk to work on Fridays is something I actively look forward to - an hour of interrupted free time to spend in the fresh air.

Reading (but only certain things)

Earlier this year I came to the (rather late) realisation that I was fed up of people trying to sell me stuff all the time. I stopped buying the Sunday supplements and fashion magazines and I unfollowed a whole load of bloggers and Instagramers. I started to realise that I'm not that fussed about 'stuff' anymore. When you're feeling blue, there's perhaps few things more soul destroying than scrolling through a feed of people showing off their free stuff. Perhaps it's an age thing, but I suddenly started to feel a bit of a mug for having previously, on occasion, been influenced by these 'influencers'. 

I'm not saying there aren't people or publications out there that I find inspiring, but I decided it was time to cut through the noise and be more selective in my reading matter. For a start, that meant reading actual books again (how very easy it is to slip into the habit of mindless, pre-bed social media scrolling) and it's been a joy to discover some perspective-giving reads this year (I highly recommend anything by Mitch Albom and Letters of Note, a book guaranteed to shift your mindset if you're having a crappy day.) 

And then I swapped my subscription to Red Magazine for one to CN Traveller. Yes, I'll probably never visit half the places featured in its glossy pages, but it's been a balm for the brain to look at lovely pictures of places instead of heavily marketed pictures of things. I gain no excitement from seeing a photo of a £1500 handbag or a £70 face cream. In fact, I get worked up that £1500 handbags are even a thing. But transporting my mind to a sun-bleached island in the ocean - even if I'm unlikely to ever go there in real life - is a far more life affirming activity. 

Writing (or cooking, painting, sewing...)

There's a reason I write this blog and it's not financial. My mind processes information much better when it's written down and likewise I feel I can express my thoughts better in written form. Whether people read what I write isn't really the point, but having some kind of creative outlet and a place to record my thoughts helps me organise my brain a bit better. 

And of course the act of total absorption in any activity - be it writing, cooking, painting or sewing - is a great way to take a holiday from yourself.

Detangling from the digital world

This is something I've found hardest to do but perhaps the most beneficial of late. Working as a social media manager has meant that sometimes I've become a bit too embedded in the digital environment. I have to be on all the platforms, and while - ostensibly - I might be looking at Facebook for work, it's only a small step from planning a campaign for my job to spending an hour mindlessly trawling through people's supposedly perfect lives (and subsequently feeling a bit shit about my own perceived failure to match their personal and professional achievements.)

As I mentioned earlier, I've found it wonderfully liberating to press the unfollow button on quite a few Instagram accounts recently. I was finding the barrage of sponsored posts and pictures of free things very wearing and not at all inspiring. I'm tired of product placement in flat lays, glossy photos of instgramers touching their hair or wearing unflattering clothes because M&S are paying them to do so. The world is cynical enough as it is.

Thankfully, there are some lovely accounts I'm now following that I find much less mentally aggravating. I'm following a heap of 'ordinary' people who just take nice pictures of the places I love - Ibiza, Italy and France. Genuine and lovely to look at, these accounts don't exist to keep big brands happy. They're just about nice pictures. 

And I'm making a conscious decision to not just unfollow but truly switch off too. It's not always easy but I'm getting there...


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