Saturday, 15 February 2014

Happy (belated) Valentine's Day!

Afternoon everyone! I hope you're all having a good weekend and are staying well with this weird ol' weather we're having at the moment in the UK. We've managed to lose two fence panels so far... eek!

Anyway - as I'm sure you're aware, yesterday was Valentine's Day and so I thought I'd talk a bit about a little thing called lurrrrrve. But don't worry, this Hummingbird ain't going to go all soppy on you! Instead, I thought I'd look a bit about how mental health is affected by the 'most romantic day of the year.' We all see the 'perfect' Valentine's Day presents being displayed in shop windows, red and pink cards overtaking the stock pile at Clintons and those 'dine in for two' adverts on the tele. But what about if you're single? What about if life happens, and the day doesn't live up to your expectations? What about if you're living with a mental health disorder?

Valentine's Day is now extremely commercialised, and just like Christmas, this can put a great weight on our shoulders. We're bombarded with messages that suggest that love is measured by what you buy. Now before I go any further, I would never say no to a bunch of flowers, a meal out, or a thoughtful card (in fact, a lovely card is one of my favourite things), but I know my husband loves me every day of the year, not just the 14th February. For me personally, it's undoubtedly the thought that counts.

Being in love, or surrounded by people who love us, is good for our mental health, regardless of whether or not you have a mental health diagnosis. Physical touch, such as a hug or holding hands, has been proven to reduce blood pressure and lower your heart rate (NHS Choices, 2012). Ideal if you're experiencing stress and/or anxiety for example.

Let's consider the wonderful hormone, Oxytocin. When I was doing some research for this blog post, I got to learn all about this 'love hormone' as it has fondly been named. We release this hormone when we hug or touch someone, and is believed to be the hormone that allows us to trust and bond with one another. In women, the levels of Oxytocin increase during labour and when breastfeeding. There have even been studies that suggest those with schizophrenia who are artificially given Oxytocin experience less psychotic episodes.Dr David Fiefel, a professor at the University of California, has studied this in great detail, also looking at it Oxytonin levels relate to anxiety. You can see more about his publications by clicking here.

So, no excuse for a cuddle now, alright?

If you're single though, Valentine's Day can make you feel under pressure and perhaps feeling unworthy or unloved. But please don't fret - you can still get that boost of Oxytonin from being with friends and family. You can still get that 'feel good feeling' in other ways, such as volunteering, watching a favourite film, or treating yourself to a little something. There aren't any rules that say you can't buy yourself chocolates/flowers/perfume/a meal out, so do it if that's what you want! I'm a true believer that getting your self-care right, whether or not you have a mental health diagnosis, is the most important thing. If we don't know what we want, we can't necessarily expect others to know either.

Here are some tips for getting through Valentine's Day, no matter whether you're single or in a relationship, and regardless of if you have a mental health diagnosis or not:

  • If you're feeling lonely this Valentine's weekend, why not call a friend? Invite one over for a cuppa? Or go out with one for a meal somewhere? It's the small things that make a big difference, remember that.
  • Don't forget that Valentine's Day IS over commercialised these days, and it's not what you give, but the fact that you show your loved one how much you care about them EVERY day of the year. 
  • Show yourself some love. If you're experiencing low mood, stress or anxiety, why not use it as an excuse to have a pamper session? There's often lots of deals on this time of year because of Valentine's Day. Book a massage, have your hair done, or even transform your bathroom into a home spa for the weekend. Bubble bath and face mask = perfect. 
  • Get active. It's a great way to increase Serotonin levels, and just 40 minutes of exercise can boost our mood. So take the dog for a walk, go for a run, dance in the kitchen or hoover the house top to toe.
I know from first-hand experience that this advice might seem a bit wet, but it's true - remember that Valentine's Day is just one day. It's the same as Christmas, there's so much pressure to get it all 'right' but honestly, does it matter? In the grand scheme of things? In my opinion, no.

My husband and I agreed not to do presents this year, just cards. When I came home from college yesterday though, feeling exhausted, overworked and emotional, I was surprised with this incredible photo wall. As you can probably imagine, I was a blubbering wreck for about half an hour.

Want to know what the best thing was about this gift though? He didn't just do it for a Valentine's Day present. He knows I've been struggling again recently due to stress at college and the reduction of my medication.

He told me that he hopes that with it being the first thing I see when I wake up each day, it will make each day just a little bit brighter.


You can't really see from this photo, but he's pegged on the string of fairy lights lots of photos and quotes. The photos include ones from walks we've taken, our cats, holidays, all the good stuff. The quotes are from songs that mean something to both of us, from songs we played on our wedding day to songs from films we love. I know I am very lucky to have such a thoughtful, patient and supportive man in my life.

So wherever you are, whoever you're with and whatever you're doing this Valentine's weekend, I do hope that you're smiling that beautiful smile.





References

NHS Choices (2012) Benefits of love and sex. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodsex/Pages/ValentinesDay.aspx (Accessed: 15th February 2014).

UCSD Healthcare Dr. David Feifel's Publications. Available at: http://nbmu.ucsd.edu/Faculty/DavidFeifel/FeifelPublications.html (no date). (Accessed: 15th February 2014).