Exmouth author Emma Richardson writes for the Journal

The older I get, the more I dislike the pressure that both Christmas and the New Year puts on us all as individuals to behave in a certain way.

In ordinary times BC (Before Covid) following the excesses of Christmas came the pressure to commit to new routines, new resolutions and new dedication to re-invent ourselves slimmer, healthier, better than before.

Whilst I’m not going to knock anyone for wanting any of those things at any time of year, I don’t think the collective belief that we should start the new year with often unrealistic expectations of our future selves is really very healthy.

January has long been a tricky, dark time; we all know how dark mornings, grey weather and a tightening of the belt can leave even the most positive person feeling blue.

For those struggling with poor mental health and the friends and family that support them, January is a perfect storm of potentially catastrophic conditions.

In these less than ordinary times the added anxieties about the pandemic, the uncertain employment market and for young people the stresses around the disruption to education will be exacerbating this already bleak time of year.

One of the most difficult things about managing mental health is knowing when to get help and believing that there is help there. I’m no expert but I do know that the first step is acknowledging that you don’t feel quite right.

The good news is that there are so many places to turn and the help can be on your own terms. Perhaps you would like to talk to someone- the Samaritans are there 24 hours a day on 116 123 (free).

Perhaps you’d rather text than talk- that’s ok, www.giveusashout.org can help by text on 85258 (free) and if webchat would suit you better try www.thecalmzone.net.

Perhaps you’d like to explore issues around how you feel- maybe some talking therapy through Talkworks would be right for you- you can self-refer or you can speak to your GP- more information at www.talkworks.dpt.nhs.uk Perhaps you’d like to read up about things you can do to make yourself feel a bit better-

MIND have an excellent website offering information and useful contacts www.mind.org.uk . We should also be aware of how much pressure our young people are under this year and that there is dedicated help for them out there too. Both www.youngminds.org.uk and www.kooth.com are worth a look for support in this area.

Nurturing good mental health is important to all of us- just as important as any other New Year’s resolutions.

I know that self-care is often the last thing I think I have time for, but it’s really very important. My own strategies are often creative pursuits- a bit of colouring in, drawing, sewing, listening to music.

If you’d like something creative to focus your thoughts or those of your young people this January, local artist and mental health champion Rosie Johnson, has kindly made a free downloadable pack of Positivity Activities available in the Seasonal section of her website at www.rosiejohnsonillustrates.com.

I also love time spent reading and an excellent book which I know has helped people I’m close to, is Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig- a positive reflection on finding a way out of the darkness.

More than anything else, we need to look out for each other. If there’s someone you know that you haven’t seen in a while, send them a message. It’s never a bad thing to ask how someone is- and remember that if they are struggling you don’t have to have the answers. Often just listening can make such a difference.