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February 12th, 2021

A new approach to Valentine's Day

By Dan Whale

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Couple Work
  • Family

For lots of us, Valentine’s Day is not something we pay much attention to. If we’re single it doesn’t hold much relevance (it can even be a bit of a kick in the teeth) and if we are in a relationship, it’s still viewed by many as a made-up holiday to make us buy more stuff.

There’s probably at least some truth in that, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Nor does it have to be about extravagant outpourings of love, like writing sonnets or holding up speakers in the rain.

Instead, what we’re taking from Valentine’s Day this year, is the concept of being kind and caring. Whether for yourself, your partner, your friends or your family, taking some time to think about how we can provide some extra care and kindness is a good way to get us all through this last chunk of winter. Whilst Valentine’s Day may hold no importance to you, one day in the calendar dedicated to care is certainly no bad thing.

Below our clinical team have contributed a few good ways to practise being caring and kind.

Caring for yourself

Saying no

Starting off on a bit of a negative note aren’t we? Actually, saying no to others can be a great act of self-care. We all deserve some time to ourselves and if nothing else, make Valentine’s Day a day in which you don’t have to worry about anyone else but yourself. You can’t catch up on some work, you can’t help your housemate with a presentation, it’s all about you. Anything else gets a ‘no’.

Journaling

More and more people are finding journaling to be an effective way of maintaining their mental health. This is because it gives us a good chance to understand what’s going on for us at that moment in time. When we have to decide what to write, thoughts are no longer just bouncing around our head. We think about them more carefully and methodically, reflecting on our experiences and identifying themes in our thinking.

Journaling has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety and help people cope with depression. If you have a bit of spare time this Valentine’s Day, why not give it a go and see how it feels?

The bullseye values exercise - ACT approach

If you’re not sure what to do with your day, why not spend some time rediscovering your values. The bullseye values exercise, a technique used in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), is a good way to organise and prioritise our thoughts, and can help move us in a meaningful and fulfilling direction.

Write 4 headings - work/education, relationships, personal growth/health and leisure. Under each of these headings, write values that matter to you. Remember that values are not goals which have a clear end, such as getting a promotion of having a baby. Values are ways of living. Things such as being loving and supportive in relationships might be a value, or always giving your best at work.

Next draw a big bullseye and split it into 4 sections, one for each of your headings (see this picture). Now mark where you think you currently are on each of your 4 sections, with the centre of the bullseye signifying you’re living completely by your values, and the outer lines implying you have some more work to do.

Finally, think about what barriers in your life are preventing you from reaching the inner circle of the bullseye, how difficult these barriers are to get past, and how you are going to do it. This exercise can provide clarity and inspiration during this period, in which we may not feel we have much control over our lives.

Caring for others

Give someone a hand with something

It’s been scientifically shown that kind acts help us feel good. This isn’t just an evolutionary thing (I help you now, you help me later, we both survive), there is a psychological and even physical benefit to be gained from helping others.

One particularly interesting study was held in China, in which they asked participants to wait in the lobby whilst they prepared a room. A staff member then asked the participant to follow them upstairs, but at the bottom of the stairs were some heavy cartons. To one group of participants, the staff member told them this was the first part of the study, to carry one of the cartons up the stairs.

But to the second group, the staff member just asked the participants if they could help them by carrying a carton. When they interviewed the participants afterwards they asked them to estimate the weight of the carton they had carried. Those believing they were doing it just to help the staff member estimated that it was lighter than the other participants. In helping others, their own physical burden was lessened.

Whilst you might not be able to do any heavy lifting for others during lockdown, perhaps you could offer to have a Zoom with the children of a friend or family member, so the parents can have some time to themselves.

Write a letter

Telling someone that you appreciate them in any format - phone call, text, face-to-face - is always likely to give them a boost and in turn help your own mental health. But, as with journaling, writing a letter gives you that reason to spend a bit of time organising your thoughts and really get your message across.

With so few of us receiving letters these days, your recipient will really appreciate the level of effort you’ve gone to to show that you care.

Call an elderly relative

It’s something that most of us should probably do more often - now you have an extra reason. Lockdown can be particularly hard for the elderly, especially if they’re on their own, so why not see if they fancy a chat?

If you don’t have an elderly relative to call, the charity Silverline puts you in contact with those who are keen for a chin-wag.

It’s easy to brush Valentine’s Day off, but this year why not use it to show yourself, or others, some much deserved kindness and care. After the year we’ve all had, the world could certainly use some more of it.

smiling woman in front of a blue wall

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