Trigger warning: the introduction will discuss mental health issues, including suicidal thoughts.

I’m going to admit something: I have something borked in my brain that leads to me being the most depressed in the moments where I should be the most happy. Birthdays, big personal achievements, and holidays... especially Christmas.

This Christmas may wind up being better in some ways, and worse in others. In the past several years, I have been navigating all the dinners and parties among friends and family crammed into all of the days off I would have. Suffice to say, it’s always stressful and I don’t like it. This year I won’t have to worry about that because of the pandemic. On the other hand, I have felt terribly lonely at times during this pandemic.

One of the main sources of my anxiety, and through it at times comes depression, is a dark and deep fear of death/dying. You can imagine how I’ve been dealing with this pandemic, and why I’ve been very rigid in isolating myself out of fear. But I’m also still human and the isolation is... isolating. It’s been a difficult mix to deal with, between the loneliness and the anxiety.

I know I’ve mentioned in comments here about this fear of mine, and I’m mentioning it again to say this — and this is where the trigger warning comes in. Despite my fear of death, I had a genuinely suicidal for the very first time in my life during this pandemic. It was a thought that lasted literally half a second when I was at a very low point two months ago. It was such a shock to me, because any thought even relating to death makes me feel uncomfortable at the very least, that it actually stunned me out of the episode I was having.

For the record, I am fine now. Much better than I had been leading up to it, in fact. I’m sharing this all with you because I know I won’t be the only one who’s struggled through the pandemic. I also know I won’t be the only one who will feel even worse around Christmas — studies have shown that Christmas is one of the worst times of year for mental health crises for people who have chronic anxiety and/or depression.

I also know that PPP can be an amazing place for coming together and sharing stories and experience about mental health issues. In fact, a thread about dealing with it is what prompted me to move from lurker to commenter.

So, with that in mind, and with Christmas only a few days away, I want to share with everyone everything I have learned or researched on mental health. This can be to help yourself, or to help your friends and family who you think might be struggling or have a history of struggling in the past — because there’s a good chance they’re struggling now too.

Signs of Depression

From WebMD:

  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches/

Signs of Anxiety

From WebMD:

  • Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:
  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
  • Having difficulty controlling worry
  • Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety/

When anxiety becomes too extreme or overwhelming, it can manifest in a panic attack or anxiety attack. The signs or symptoms are usually the same as general anxiety, but more extreme. Some people can mistake it for a heart attack. It can also manifest as:

  • Sense of impending doom or danger
  • Fear of loss of control or death
  • Rapid, pounding heart rate
  • Shaking
  • Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Dizziness, light-headedness or faintness
  • Numbness or tingling sensation
  • Feeling of unreality or detachment/

How to Improve Your Mental Health

For anyone who has chronic depression or anxiety, there is no real cure. There are treatments and ways to manage or improve your mental health, but it is generally a lifelong battle. You will have good periods, and bad periods. I don’t have to explain why right now is more likely to be a bad period.

There’s a great episode on anxiety on the docuseries The Mind: Explained on Netflix. It covers some of the most common and effective ways of treating mental health disorders. Here is a rough list of things you can do to improve your mental health, in a rough order starting from what is shown to be the most effective:

  • Medication — prescription medications can to help deal with specific chemical imbalances in your brain that affect your mental health. It doesn’t have to be permanent, if that is a worry for you.
  • Therapy — working with a therapist or counselor of some type to talk through your issues and get the mental coping mechanisms to control your mental health better is huge. I swear by Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. You have a certain amount of appointments, and you are done once you have practiced their tips and techniques. You can go back now and then for touch-ups for new issues, but the point is to give you the tools to deal with it yourself. There are other kinds of therapy that may be better suited to your specific issues, however.
  • Exercise — working out releases serotonin, a chemical that makes you feel elated.
  • Diet — eat healthier foods and cut back on caffeine, alcohol and junk food.
  • Mindfulness meditation — you can download apps or watch YouTube videos that have guided mindfulness meditation, which has been shown to help improve mental control and mental health.
  • Yoga — works as exercise and meditation in one go.
  • Get a full night’s sleep — sleep deprivation makes anxiety worse, and anxiety makes it harder to sleep. It’s a vicious cycle.
  • Journaling — sometimes therapy helps because talking through your feelings helps you make sense of it. When you understand it, you can feel less worry. You can figure out what to do about it. Or you can just get a rant out of your system.
  • CBD — a non-psychoactive compound (means you don’t get high) taken from cannabis that has been shown to improve sleep quality and reduce stress, anxiety and depression in some studies.
  • Shower and groom — this is a personal one, no idea if studies back it up, but I find feeling fresh and clean gives me a little boost.
  • Reach out to people — talking with friends or family in any way helps you feel connected to others so you don’t feel alone or overwhelmed. Have zoom calls, play online games together, watch the same movies or read the same books and talk about them.
  • Pick up a hobby that makes you feel in control — build something, take up a craft, painting, making new baking or food recipes, or play something like Minecraft where you have direct control over something. Feeling in control is very calming, as feeling like you have no control is a common factor with anxiety.
  • Get a pet — having something to take care of and be a companion can be a big help to someone’s mental health. This may not be for everyone, as the extra responsibility can just add more stress. You can try fostering a pet through a local animal shelter before fully adopting one./

The note on diet and exercise is tied to the idea that being physically healthy means you’re more mentally healthy. You won’t feel tired or sick or bloated, and feeling like crap from not moving around and not eating well just adds to the pile of mental misery you may be dealing with.

Fun Group Activities to Do Online with Friends and Family

You know about Zoom and Teams and Skype and any other online video chat app. But it can be more fun and engaging to have an activity to do together than just talk for 30-40 minutes now and then. Don’t get me wrong, talking can be good enough as a starting point.  But there’s more you can also do to feel better than never moving past the starting point.

  • Jackbox — fun series of party games you can easily play online with people on computers, laptops, tablets or phones. Has trivia games, quiz games, drawing games, and so on. Been playing them for years, and still do now and then with friends. Does cost money but only one person needs to buy them, the rest can play with just access to an internet browser.
  • Group movie watching — get someone to share their screen, stream it to others through Twitch or Discord, or websites like this There is a similar service for Prime. Pick a silly/funny movie, or a classic you all like. Have some snacks and drinks and chat while the movie is on. Works better with a light hearted movie you don’t mind talking over.
  • — it’s free, it’s on a browser, and it’s a silly and simple drawing game.
  • — another free, simple drawing game done on a browser, but works like the broken telephone game. You write a prompt, next person tries to draw it, the next person tries to describe it, the next person tries to draw the new description, etc.
  • Digital potluck/dinner party — you can do this by making your own recipes together or ordering in; you can order something for each other as a surprise or stick to what you all know you like.
  • Digital happy hour — the same as above but just with booze.
  • Digital Secret Santa — my extended family did this, but instead of exchanging gifts this year we picked a cause we knew the other person supported and donated $X to a charity in that vein. We then wrote little poems as riddles for the person to guess what the charity was./

These are little things that I’ve tried myself or that other people have said help them. Everyone is different and will have better results with their own combination of all the above. If you are really, REALLY struggling and need someone to talk to but no one you know is available, there is a great list of phone numbers and resources you can use here:

The list includes 24/7 numbers you can call any time. If you are not in Canada, Wikipedia actually has a good list of numbers to call by several countries around the world:

And if it’s in the middle of the day, and you just want a distraction or somewhere to vent about smaller issues to get it off your chest, you can always come here! Start a pun thread, spout off your hot takes about food, or just ask for comfort and helpful advice from everyone here to help you get through this.

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