I have just got round to reading Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. Published in 2015, it tells the story of his mental health breakdown aged 24 and how he managed to resist acting on his suicidal thoughts at that time. He tells of his struggles with anxiety, panic attacks and depression and how he was able to find ways to accept and even “befriend” them. I can recommend it as a helpful and hopeful book to read if you or a loved one are going through something similar.
The book is fairly short and simple which means it would be readable even if you are feeling very low and finding it hard to concentrate as each chapter is very short but gives you something to reflect on. It is an impressive mixture of informative, instructive, funny and poignant.
In the winter months some people struggle more with depressive thoughts and low mood. Christmas can also be a trigger for particularly painful feelings. Here are some of the things Matt Haig finds helpful for maintaining good mental health which you might like to try over the coming weeks:
Slowing Down – Matt recognised that “anxiety runs your mind at fast forward rather than normal play speed” and found that techniques for slowing down helped calm his anxiety – yoga, slow breathing, mindfulness and meditation.
Movement – Matt took up running while he was still having panic attacks. While he was running he didn’t worry that he was panicking as there was a good reason his heart was racing. After running he felt a sense of achievement and “a gentle sense of release as though depression and anxiety were slowly evaporating from inside me”.
Reading – When he began to recover Matt read a huge number of novels and says “books were my way out of being lonely”. They helped him to connect to stories of other people and humanity as a whole and this somehow helped him to re-connect with himself.
Love – Matt’s partner stood by him and supported him through his illness and their love for each other was one of his key reasons to stay alive. He suggests that even if you don’t have a partner or family, love can be a significant factor in recovery: “Forcing yourself to see the world through love’s gaze can be healthy. Love is an attitude to life. It can save us.”
Travel – His partner organised a trip to Paris for his birthday when he was still finding it hard to go outside on his own without having a panic attack. He decided to go despite his fears and found that “simply doing something that I had dreaded – and surviving – was the best kind of therapy”. He recognised that travelling gave him perspective on his life and problems and helped to “unstick” his unhappy state of mind.
At the end of the book he lists forty pieces of advice on how to live. Here are some of my favourites:
“Wherever you are at any moment, try to find something beautiful… Beauty cleans the mind”.
“Don’t worry about things that probably won’t happen”.
“Three in the morning is never the time to try and sort out your life.”
“If the sun is shining and you can be outside, be outside.”
“Remember the key thing about life on earth is change….Depression lifts.”