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Small steps work best. Saturday December 19, 2015

Today's blog is by Rachel Kelly, author of 52 Small Steps to Happiness and a member of Moodscope. We hope you enjoy it. If you are interested in getting hold of a copy of Rachel's new book, details are at the end of the blog. The Moodscope Team.

December can be a wobbly month for me. It's not just the ever lengthening to-do list: it's also the memory of experiencing a major depressive episode, which happened at this time of year.

It was brought on by being overwhelmed, anxious, and trying to do too much, most notably throwing a neighbourhood Christmas party. I ended up leaving my own get-together and creeping home to my mother's house where I collapsed.

Now, nearly a decade later, I am blessed to feel calm and well. Of course life isn't always smooth, and some times of year need careful handling, but I do feel I've now got my Black Dog on a tight leash. While I don't wish depression on anyone, suffering from mental illness has made me who I am and has forced upon me some hard-won lessons about how to care for my own mental health.

I now rely on an eclectic mix of strategies, a salad bowl of approaches that keep me steady. I use diet, breathing techniques, prayer, poetry, exercise, and a sprinkling of mindfulness, which, taken together may not lead directly to happiness, but it often follows as a by-product.

Such is the paradoxical nature of happiness: you cannot simply become happy, like flicking a switch in your head. Rather happiness is often an indirect consequence of the way we think and our actions, whether it's tending a garden on helping others.

The other thing I've learnt is that small steps work best. They are not only achievable but add up and have been the easiest way for me to make sustainable changes. I've found that every time I try a more dramatic approach, I set the bar too high and end up feeling a failure.

It's proved helpful to be aware of the particular pressure of different times of year. So this year we did throw a party, but it was a small one. What small step could you take to make 2016 a year when you walk on sunshine?

Rachel Kelly
A Moodscope member.

Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness is published by Short Books and is available for purchase on Amazon. For more information please follow Rachel on Twitter @RachelKellyNet or visit

Thoughts on the above? Please feel free to post a comment below.

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Hopeful One Sat, Dec 19th 2015 @ 6:57am

Hi Rachel- thank you for that. It's an honour and a previlige to read a blog from an author of a published work. My small step? To remind myself that , contrary to general belief,our thoughts are automatic. We cannot control them. But what we can do is not to allow them to control us The best way I know of achieving this is some form of meditation unless some knows something better that is simple, cheap , needs no gadgets and is always available ?

LillyPet Sat, Dec 19th 2015 @ 9:13am

Morning HO, for me it is rare that I stop long enough to meditate, but mindfulness is quick easy and free! I literally say to myself with a smile "... aand back in the room! " as soon as I realise that my attention is taken away from where I am by thoughts and problems. LP xx

Hopeful One Sat, Dec 19th 2015 @ 5:24pm

Hi LilleyPet- if that works for you it's good enough for me. It's just possible that you have discovered a different route for yourself. But it's worth reminding ourselves that meditation and mindfulness are not the same things. Meditation is the learning the skill that gives us the ability to practice mindfulness . When meditation came over from the East to the West many doctors in the 1960's saw it's therapeutic potential. But their contempories saw it as some mumbo jumbo. So the doctors who were interested in it gave it a different name - mindfulness -which was then acceptable to the whole fraternity. Without the backing of meditation, mindfulness becomes a hit and miss affair , like building a house without a foundation. I appreciate and accept that meditation is not everyone's cup of tea for all sorts of reasons but curiously these are the very individuals who need it most!

Mrs Jul A Non Sat, Dec 19th 2015 @ 9:07am

I think small steps do work but my depression whatever one likes to call is it pretty much permanent. I don't have huge lows except for around Christmas when 'tis the season to be jolly".. I have a few good days when I've slept well. I'm sort of on a permanent state of alert. Your description of how you felt throwing a neighbourhood party might well be me. This year for me will be the last time I do all this entertaining on such a scale. My November predictions have come true, no sleep for the next weeks until well after Christmas because of all the anxiety. It's mad and silly to do all this.

the room above the garage Sat, Dec 19th 2015 @ 10:10am

You are me Jul. Every year Christmas breaks me. I've tried a new approach this year and so far it's all ok apart from not being organised...but I feel reasonably organised, or comfortable not being organised maybe. This is a full 180 turn for me so I won't say it's been a success until a few months have gone by (my low grinds to a black abyss in Feb after the anxiety recedes). I also feel depression never leaves but holds me at at level. A permanent state of alert is exactly the right description. I believe eventually i will slowly lift my base line. Would love you to blog on this because I now feel better knowing my type of depression is shared. I entertain very little, Christmas Day is mine because my kitchen can hold us well. I've annoyed people by not attending birthdays and indeed I just received an invite which I've been looking at with that question "how do I decline without offending". Attending will make me ill before and after and I'm no longer prepared to compromise. Wow I've rambled!! Why don't we pretend we're 1950s starlets and think of ourselves as fabulously 'rarely seen in public' rather than 'hermit'. Let's go glam. Why not! :-D

LillyPet Sat, Dec 19th 2015 @ 10:45am

Definately we're the new chic! Glam up the aloof look! :) people are getting to know that in winter I do less. Those that are worth it will get it and still be there. That wasnt rambling ratg! ;) LP x

LillyPet Sat, Dec 19th 2015 @ 10:46am

Definitely lol! :))

susan Sat, Dec 19th 2015 @ 12:15pm

Me too. Permanent state, etc. Have cut way back this Christmas but tonight it's a large family/friends dinner party. I am super organized and went to sleep last night at midnight feeling calm and confident. Woke at 2 with that sinking feeling and that was it...awake ever since. So today's a struggle. Thought of you, Jul. I use little white lies a lot to turn down invitations, ratg. Love your 'back in the room', LP. Here's to the new chic. xx

Mrs Jul A Non Sat, Dec 19th 2015 @ 5:00pm

You come across as so witty and eloquent ratg. I find it difficult to imagine you not wanting to go to a party or shine at one. But that's us. In writing we can express ourselves. Maybe our true selves come out in our writing. It's so frustrating that it can't be translated so effectively into face to face situations. Well for me it can't. I have thought about writing a blog about my form of depression. I will. I do hope you have a good Christmas etc. ratg. Our 25th lunch will be in my kitchen too. I'm looking forward to that. It's tomorrow which is the bug bear. 8 of us and I'm having to pull out an extending dining table and plonk it in the middle of our lounge and find chairs from all over the house. I can't do this until tomorrow morning (crack of dawn stuff) as we have visitors here. My mind is everywhere at the moment. You know what it's like. And Susan..good luck this evening. You'll get through it. I do on very little sleep so take courage from me xxx

the room above the garage Sun, Dec 20th 2015 @ 7:52am

You're probably up and at it Jul, I understand completely, racing heart and brain whirring from one thing to the next. Exhausted before you've begun. If you happen to read this before they arrive...(and I'm hopeless at it) remember that people love to feel they've helped so you could leave a few jobs that are easy delegated to someone who wants to be involved. It not only gives them the responsibility not to screw it up (one pressure gone!) bug leaves you to the jobs you don't want messed up. Will be thinking of you, and congratulations on your 25th! Xx

the room above the garage Sat, Dec 19th 2015 @ 9:45am

Small steps definitely! In every area of life for me. Thank you Rachel.

LillyPet Sat, Dec 19th 2015 @ 9:53am

Totally JA. It's not worth it, so great decision. Focus on how lovely next Christmas could be and what you would like it to be like. My family have been literally "rocked" by my choosing to be absent at such an important family time for them. They probably think I'm selfish but I am determined to do things my way after 50 years of doing the same hectic trawling around visiting and preparing or helping prepare for entertaining. It's a nonsense if we are supposed to be happy and enjoy the holiday! I now as nicely as I can say that I like to have a restful quiet Christmas. I felt guilty " abandoning" my parents last year, especially my sweet dad who I was told shed a tear while making a speech at the dinnertable. This year instead of just not being around for the whole time, to aliviate some of the guilt I am trying to fix two dates. One to go out with my parents BEFORE Christmas day and one when they know I'll come over to see them. I want to pop in on christmas day just to wish them a Merry Christmas and have a smiley exchange of gifts as its so important to them, BEFORE the maybem begins. That in itself is not putting my need to just relax at home first, but it's just a case of getting the balance right and getting some perspective on it! A kind of a reality check, I'll have to remind them at some point that it's not the end of the world and it's too much pressure for me. I'll try to make them understand in a gentle way. It runs deeper than just Christmas for them. Me withdrawing from the family and choosing not to spend time with a certain inlaw is making them sad. More pressure on me. I'm gently and positively saying that everything is and will be fine. They simply have to accept and respect my choices and decisions about my life, like it or not. Am prepared to be the "sheep-of-colour" lol! :)) of the family to take a stand for what I choose for me. I am there for them when I can be.
Sorry that my record got stuck! I wanted to show how much nonsense goes on and back uo your decision for next year. This year it is very important that you do not allow it to make you ill. Scale down and make short cuts where you can and explain to who you can that you need to not over do it too much this year. Taking yourself off for a few moments for a lie down should be fine. Motto "Gently does it and no pressure" . Love and hugs LP :) xxx

Mrs Jul A Non Sat, Dec 19th 2015 @ 5:05pm

You sound such a very kind person LillyPet. Surely that's all that matters? Kindness. You have thought about your parents and it doesn't matter you won't be with them on Christmas day. I can't write any more. Sorry. My visitors have just appeared. I mean come downstairs. (it must be time for a drink soon!xx

Milliecat Sat, Dec 19th 2015 @ 9:55am

Thanks Rachel - always good to hear of a new book. I was interested so picked it up on Kindle. Just great - I tend to forget all the tips and tricks of mood management so this book is really handy as each wee chapter reminds you what it is possible to do when depressed or stressed to help calm things. The cartoons def made me smile. Today I am going to try the finger on my nose technique to slow my breathing. I remembered this from yoga once I had read it but otherwise it was lost in the swirl of my mind a very handy, portable and free technique! Thanks v much x

LillyPet Sat, Dec 19th 2015 @ 10:39am

Thanks Rachel, I'm a big fan of small steps too!
For 2016 I'd like to be less frantic! So if I could take a small step towards that it might be to remind myself that "it can wait" and " All in good time" if I find myself trying to fit in too much. Doing something small the day before to give myself more time might help. I think my small step needs a little refining, any tips will be gratefully received! In fact I'll check out your book, it sounds great!
Than you Rachel! LP xx

susan Sat, Dec 19th 2015 @ 12:16pm

Thank you, Rachel. Love the idea of your books and will definitely have a look. Happy Christmas. xx

The Gardener Sat, Dec 19th 2015 @ 6:12pm

Next year? This one ending is currently grim. 61st wedding anniversary, favourite restaurant changing owners - got through the challenge of getting MR TG anywhere - nothing special, no fuss - their reminiscence book passed round but not to us. Seemed glad to get rid of that miserable old couple in the corner. I CANNOT think of 2016 - usually I love new year - eldest grand-son and I look at it like a new exercise book issued at school - first page perfect, then it's downhill all the way. All I can do is take all the help I can get, and hope to sleep one day. I'd like to improve my Moodscope score, in that the 'highs' occur when someone is staying and taking some of the load (and, as important, someone to have a conversation with). The lows, now almost permanent, can be traced solely to lack of sleep - how can you be active, enthusiastic - all the 'positive' cards, when life is so lacking in structure. We ARE invited out, but even if we make it to the end, once in the car back Mr TG says 'Thank God that's over.' I love the silliness of New Year's Eve, Mr TG would go with me, but attitude 'just a day like any other'. I have given him some momentous birthdays - and never regret giving someone a 'memorable' day. Perhaps that will be my aim in 2016. He is just running up for an apparently Alzheimer habit, tired, irritable, argumentative but won't go to bed. This thinking perhaps because Radio 4 has been talking sectioning, and to a Samaritan who actually stopped someone throwing themselves in the river while she was on the way to a duty. Going to watch Strictly Come Dancing final - colour and light, in near darkness down here.

Eva Sun, Dec 20th 2015 @ 12:44am

I must check out your book, good tools are valuable, and having a multitude to pick from will be useful. Just heading towards first Xmas ever without my dad, last year we were in hospital with him, he was heavily sedated but could squeeze our hands when we spoke to him.I don't know how it will be. We are going to do things differently as I can't face home without him yet. I think this is going to be a bit of a reality check. Gardener, I send you love and peace, do you get a chance to meditate ever, I find it helpful with exhaustion, but tricky too as it can be hard to focus, but I always feel that having a 15 min quite time to myself even if my focus is fleeting is nurturing.

the room above the garage Sun, Dec 20th 2015 @ 7:59am

Hello Eva, it's very hard on the day to feel someone is missing. I'm really sorry you'll have that. What helped us as a family was to remind ourselves frequently what our missing one would say...for us there are many one liners to choose from as our most recent missing one (2years) had many. I will think of you X.

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