What do you do when you’re not OK?

Published: 1st February 2021

This last year has been exceptionally difficult for everyone living through the COVID-19 pandemic. You’ve seen less of the people you love and can’t do a lot of the things that make you happy. Throw menopausal symptoms into the mix and things can easily spiral downwards and make you feel overwhelmed.

This article is about what you can do when you’re not feeling OK, including when having suicidal thoughts.

How do I feel?

Knowing how you feel and paying attention to this is sometimes half the battle. Don’t let low mood, stress and anxiety creep up on you until it shows itself in full on crisis mode. Have little moments of checking in with yourself every day and acknowledge what it is that you’re feeling. It’s not a great habit to regularly ignore, dismiss or deny how you’re feeling.

Know your warning signs

Everyone reacts differently to feeling down, stressed or worried. Figure out what you do in these situations and look out for those signs. It could be:

  • Feeling tired, emotional and tearful
  • Not doing things you usually enjoy
  • Having a feeling of brain fog or poor concentration
  • Feeling restless or agitated
  • Finding it hard to manage every-day tasks
  • Depending on alcohol or drugs more often

Some of these may be very familiar to you as they can also be symptoms of the menopause and perimenopause. It’s normal for these feelings to come and go as your hormones fluctuate and it’s entirely normal to experience any of these things, given the current pandemic and tragic loss of loved ones.

Thoughts of suicide

Suicidal thoughts can be another sign that things are not right, and they can be very frightening and confusing. You may not understand why you’re getting them and feel completely powerless to stop it happening. They can range from fleeting thoughts to being persistent and you may even have a carefully thought-out plan to end your life.

If you’ve reached that moment and feel on the edge, but don’t feel comfortable reaching out to a close friend or family member, call someone like the Samaritans (dial 116 123) and talk about it. They will help you get through that frightening moment and make more sense of your current situation and point you to other places to get help.

While it can be very scary and there seem like no other way out of your misery, remember this is a moment in time and the strength of those feelings will pass.

Don’t focus too much on what’s causing your bouts of low mood or anxiety – “is it my hormones or just my life right now” – there’s usually not a single answer to that one.

What matters is you, how you feel and what to do about it. Taking steps to care for your mind and body will help you feel better, no matter what the cause.

Ways to help

Firstly, give your body the best chance to feel better by boosting some key aspects of menopausal health.

Boost your body’s:

Hormones

If you show signs and symptoms of being perimenopausal or menopausal (find out more here), think about taking HRT.  

If you’re already taking HRT, speak to your healthcare professional if you think you may need a higher dose or different type if you feel that it’s not having the effect that it used to.

A steady supply of estrogen – and often testosterone too – into your bloodstream can help improve feelings of low mood, anxiety and many other symptoms (not to mention protect you against diseases in the future).

Nutrition

As tempting as it is to comfort eat while binging your favourite programmes during lockdown, you need to be kind to your body and remember you’re feeding your brain too. There’s a close relationship between what’s happening in your gut and how your brain functions.

A diet with plenty of vegetables, that’s low in sugar, salt and overly processed foods, but rich in calcium, vitamin D and pre- and probiotics will help not only your gut and general health, but your energy levels and mood too.

Rest

One of the best things you can do for your mind and body is sleep. Try and get 7-8 hours a night, with a consistent routine of when you go to bed and when you get up. Here’s more information on why it’s so important and our tips on sleeping better.

Looking after these aspects of your physical health is really important. Now, let's think more about your mental health.

Things to remember if you’re not OK

How you’re feeling is normal

You may feel like you’re really struggling and not coping at the moment. You’re certainly not alone in feeling this way. Many people have times where they find things overwhelming and emotions can seem extreme, especially negative emotions.

You are not alone

Having negative thoughts can make you feel like you’re on your own and there’s no one to turn to but remember, you are never alone. Even if you feel like you can’t share some of your thoughts with anyone you know, there are volunteers and professionals that care about you and understand a bit about what you’re going through.

In the UK, the Samaritans have a free, 24/7 helpline with volunteers you can talk to at any time, about whatever is playing on your mind. Just dial 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org there are more details at the end of this article.

Feelings pass

As awful as you may feel right now, feelings don’t last forever. It can be difficult to see beyond your current situation but talking about things can often help you see a glimpse of something more hopeful in the future.

Ways to help yourself

Connect with people – even if it’s just over zoom for now, a chat with good friends or family can lift the spirits, make you laugh and help you feel a little less alone.

Talk about your feelings – open up with a trusted friend or family member and let the “I’m fine” mask slip a little now and then. A conversation that digs a bit deeper can help you put things into perspective and feel brighter about the future.

Keep to a routine – planning your day can help you feel grounded when everything feels uncertain. Stick to set times to eat, sleep, and exercise and they can be like anchors you keep coming back to throughout your day. This is especially true during periods of lockdown or unemployment.

Make time for things you enjoy – while you may be restricted in doing some of your favourite activities, there are plenty of hobbies you can enjoy from home or forms of outdoor activity that are permitted. Find time for 30 minutes a day if you can, for something creative, relaxing, or being outdoors.

Breathing and relaxation exercises – exercises that focus on controlled breathing or relaxing your muscles can really help you feel calmer. There’s a huge number of ways to do these such as apps, videos, podcasts or reading instructions on websites. Take a look at these ones from Mind as an example. Find the one that is easiest for you to turn to in moments of overwhelm. It will quickly become memorised and be integrated into a daily routine as many times as you need it.

And finally…

Most people are finding life harder than normal at the moment; be kind to yourself and think about some small things you can feel proud of. Your body is going through a major shift at the same time your life has probably been turned upside down by a huge global event.

Be honest with yourself and talk to others about how you’re feeling. You’re not going through this alone and remember, help is available. Reach out for support and you will start to see your situation in a more positive light.

Resources

Click here for a list of charities and services that support people’s mental health or visit: www.mentalhealth.org.uk/your-mental-health/getting-help

Samaritans website: www.samaritans.org

Helpline: 116 123             Email: jo@samaritans.org             App: www.selfhelp.samaritans.org

NHS in a crisis dial 999 for emergencies. Dial 111 for advice. Find urgent mental health help locally here. For help with self-harm visit here.

For breathing, relaxation and sleep:

Headspacewww.headspace.com

Calmwww.calm.com

Mind charity relaxation exercises


Newson Health Menopause and Wellbeing Centre was launched in 2018 by leading menopause specialist and GP, Dr Louise Newson. Created to help women receive the most appropriate, individualised and holistic treatment for their perimenopause and menopause, it has quickly become a centre of excellence, providing care to women of all ages, both via remote consultations and in-person at clinics in Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwickshire.

A passionate and tireless campaigner for better menopause care for all women, Dr Newson has also founded the Menopause Doctor website, The Menopause Charity, the balance app, Newson Health Research and Education and written a best-selling Haynes Manual on Menopause.

The Menopause Doctor website is a free resource providing a huge amount of unbiased, evidence based information about the menopause and perimenopause for women and healthcare professionals. The site has been adopted by the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) as an official educational library for menopause. Visit www.menopausedoctor.co.uk.

The Menopause Charity was founded in 2020, with trustees including sustainable health expert Professor Matthew Cripps and media ambassadors Davina McCall, Lorraine Kelly, Liz Earle and Meg Mathews. The charity has many exciting plans to help women and their families and colleagues with the challenges caused by the menopause, including an educational website, professionally staffed helpline and fundraising for research activities. Visit www.themenopausecharity.org.

‘balance’ is a free app that was developed to enable women to track their symptoms, access personalised expert content, share stories and lots more. Get the balance app at www.balance-app.com.

Newson Health Research and Education is a not-for-profit organisation from which all profits are invested back into the business. A Confidence in Menopause educational platform has been developed specifically for healthcare professionals and can be found at https://www.fourteenfish.com/menopause/subscribe

The Haynes Manual on Menopause is a definitive guide to help women, their partners and families cut through the plethora of misinformation and take a straightforward look at menopause. Find out more at www.newsonhealth.co.uk/resources/menopause-manual.