How do you find the best Christmas gift? At this time of year, it can be stressful just thinking about what to buy people. Everyone seems to have everything. There is an invaluable gift we can give ourselves and others; if we choose to.
I’m guessing that the first thing on your shopping list is not mental wellbeing! Yet it is the most important aspect of our lives. It is not just something to think about at Christmas. It is estimated that one in four of us will cope with mental ill-health at sometime. One quarter of girls are depressed at 14 according to recent research. Today’s teenagers are far more likely to experience emotional problems than even 10 years ago. The festive season can be particularly tough for people. What is going on?
Our Internal GPS – Navigating Life
The other day my husband and I drove to London to see our son and his new home. We were relying on our Satellite Navigation to get us there. I have no idea how GPS actually works, but my understanding is that the system is designed to find the best possible way to the desired destination. We are meant to follow the highlighted route and trust the instructions. It was going well until suddenly the icon of our car went off and it was travelling over houses, rivers and all over the place. I could see where we needed to be, but the ‘car’ and the narrative were malfunctioning. We had run into an area with poor satellite connection. Of course, this wasn’t the real car, but it felt stressful. Our trust in the system began to dissipate. Doubt, panic and frustration crept in. We had no road map with us. We felt lost.
Inherent in each of us is an internal GPS system. This is our default mode. Through millions of years of evolution, it has developed to keep us safe, well and on the right path. It is hard to explain how it works. When we trust in it and follow it, we can find wellbeing, peace and compassion. Being human, unfortunately at times we can lose our connection with the ‘satellite’. Our thoughts can take us off the right path. We can lose touch with ourselves and reality; become lost. This can mean we may rely on false messages; leading us to seriously doubt the system and ourselves. It can lead to frustration, negative emotions and mental ill-health. We need to refind the satellite, which is always there. Then we are ready to navigate through life.
Best Christmas Gift for Others
If you want to give someone the best Christmas gift, help them get back in touch with their internal GPS. ‘This is a gift that keeps on giving’. It is not just for Christmas but forever. The good news is it costs nothing but your time and empathy. Sometimes it’s the little things you do that can make a big difference to someone who is feeling ‘off track’. As leaders (at work or home), your gift can be a continuing conversation about mental health. You can create a culture where it becomes OK to talk about it. Mental health is not the taboo it was. This is thanks to a range of organisations like Time to Change and Mind. There is more coverage in the media. Celebrities are speaking out about it.
Here are some gift ideas that can transform a life for someone, yet don’t cost money.
- Give someone time. Be there for them and show you care. Chat about everyday things and what they are interested in; as well as mental health.
- Give someone a call, meet for coffee or send them a message. Let them know you care and are thinking of them. Small things can make a big difference.
- However they may be feeling, be empathic and patient. Really listen to them. Be like a rock with ears! You don’t have to provide the solutions. Help their day be a little better.
Best Christmas Gift for Yourself
Christmas can also be the time to give yourself a well-earned gift.
- Give yourself breaks. Find the right balance in your life with work and non-work activities. Allow yourself to enjoy some ‘me time’. Do what you love doing. It is a chance to exercise and have a change of scene.
- Take care of your physical wellbeing too and don’t over indulge.
- Find yourself a good ear! Talk to someone rather than bottle it up. Ask for help if you need it. Meeting with positive friends stimulates the brain. You do not have to face the challenge alone. There is a wealth of organisations willing to support you.
- Give yourself a pat on the back and some kindness. Celebrate your successes and what you have achieved; rather than ‘beating yourself up’ for what you haven’t done.
- Check your thoughts and challenge what you may be telling yourself. We can create our own prison by the thoughts and feelings we have. “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” ― Nelson Mandela
- Enjoy the moment, not just during the festive period, but life in general. Unwrap the daily pleasures that are out there for you to find.
If you want training and support to be able to deal with these issues, Mental Health First Aid England offer practical courses. I attended one last year and it was brilliant; if intense. This is a gift I would highly recommend.
Giving the best Christmas gift of mental wellbeing will help make 2018 less stressful and a more enjoyable year. Helping people re-tune to their internal GPS can get them back on track and stay on track. It costs nothing but your time, effort and the right mindset. The result can be priceless and forever.
Also published on Medium.