That has been the sound of my brain (and nostrils and head and, okay, butt) every morning for the past two or three mornings, upon waking up and realizing things are still not going great. I have contracted some kind of flu. It does not feel good. Nothing feels good.
However, while the nose-blowing and soup-slurping and self-pitying parts of the flu aren’t great, it’s not all downers. As a result of feeling crummy, I’ve been taking it easy on myself, and you know what? Taking it easy on yourself RULES.
The more I think about it (and holed up in my sickbed alone with some Alice Munro and a King-sized Toblerone I have more time to think than usual), the way we take care of ourselves when we’re ill should be the way we take care of ourselves always. Don’t want to go to a social engagement? Send your regrets and take a night in. Want to drink a million cups of tea and read alone instead of meeting friends for coffee? If only “This is what I need right now” was a Get Out of Social Engagements Free card the same way “I’m really sick” is. It should be! Cut yourself and your friends some slack, I say. We’re all trying our best and sometimes we just need a Time Out with three hours of Sherlock and our bathrobes.
I’m not saying that you should shut the world out just because it’s winter and you feel like it… at least not all the time. But I think it’s helpful to think of our mental health as a continuum, the same way we approach our bodies. Just like you can feel “off” without needing a doctor to diagnose you with bronchitis or some larger illness, in the same way your brain and mood can be exhausted without lapsing into full depression. If you felt run down and sniffly, you’d probably take a night off and pamper yourself before those sniffles turned into a full-blown cold, right? Nice steam-y shower with some tea tree oil soap, maybe. Eating a classic comfort food your mom used to make or ordering something nice and wholesome from a neighbourhood restaurant. Saying a cheerful “neeeerrrrp!” to that stressful friend who asks a lot from your hang outs, and going to see a movie by yourself instead. Going a bit nuts on the fancy herbal teas. Whatever.
We take better care of ourselves in the lead up to an illness, because everyone knows how cruddy even the common cold can feel. We’re easier on ourselves about things and make sure we get enough sleep, eat well, and treat ourselves a little. Why aren’t we chill like that about mental health? A case of the blahs is basically a winter flu of the mind and mood. We don’t have to go to the doctor for either, but it’s not going to go away as quickly if we don’t give ourselves time to rest and recover, take the relevant vitamins, get enough sleep, drink water, etc. In fact, chronic stress or low mood can often lead to physical symptoms as well as the regular no-good feelings of tiredness, dreariness or lack of motivation. Allow yourself time to deal with the mental coughs and hiccups that are a natural part of life, and don’t give others a hard time when they feel like it might be a better choice for them to stay in and take care of themselves than go out.
This message brought to you by Neocitran, King-sized Toblerones, and a feeling of complete freedom from most obligations for the next day or two. It feels good, guys. It feels reaaaaal good. Achoo.
Follow Monica on twitter: @monicaheisey