Whether or not you believe in the idea of Blue Monday – the day said to be the most depressing of the year according to a 2004 PR stunt – it’s fair to say this January feels harder than most.
In the UK, we’ve endured a lot over the past 12 months. With an unusual Christmas and New Year over, but winter weather still here plus a new lockdown, it’s a good time to look at some self-care strategies to take us through to sunnier times, literally and metaphorically.
Forget resolutions, just be good to yourself
New Year’s resolutions are a great idea on paper. A new goal, a fresh start, something to focus on.
The problem is that we often set goals that are unrealistic and non-specific. Things like “spend less”, “lose weight”, “run more”. It means we might start the year feeling motivated, but soon beat ourselves up for not meeting our unspecified target. It’s the last thing any of us needs right now.
So this year we say forget resolutions. Just focus on being good to yourself instead.
What that means will be different for everyone. It might be learning to talk to yourself with the kindness you’d grant a friend. It could be about self-acceptance and learning to love your perceived ‘flaws’.
If you still crave the structure of writing down a resolution, go ahead, but our advice is to get specific with it. So, a resolution to ‘get fitter’ might become ‘do three 10-minute workout videos a week’. ‘Feel less stressed’ could mean scheduling in a monthly massage, manicure or self-care experience (when measures allow, of course).
Get into a routine for better sleep
Holiday shift patterns, Christmas lie-ins and still-dark mornings mean it’s understandable if your wake times are a bit all over the place in January. But for long-term sleep health, a solid routine your bodyclock can rely on is key.
Start by working out how many hours of sleep you’d like to get a night, bearing in mind that everyone’s needs are different (and that sometimes teething toddlers, noisy neighbours or roadworks will get in the way).
Next, work backwards from a wake time – one you can maintain on weekends as well as weekdays – to establish what time you need to be asleep by. An hour before that time each day, soften the lighting, switch off screens and do something undemanding instead like folding laundry, reading or meditating.
Wake up when your alarm clock goes off, resisting all temptation to tap the snooze button, even when you feel you’ve slept badly. This might seem counter-intuitive, but studies suggest it can be an effective method for tackling insomnia. That’s because your body’s circadian rhythm thrives on consistency, allowing you to feel sleepy and wakeful at the same times each day.
Sunshine can really help here too. Open the curtains soon after waking and consider investing in a light-box to simulate natural daylight in the winter months. Which leads us to our next tip…
Head outside (or let nature in)
It’s rainy and grey. It could even be snowing. You’re bored of the usual route. All understandable reasons you might not feel like putting your trainers on in January.
But the fact remains that science says you will feel better after time outdoors, even if it’s just 20 minutes a day.
Make it easy by committing to the smallest amount of time possible, like five minutes around the block. You might find that once you’re out, you’re inspired to walk a little further, especially if you live near green space, which is proven to help reduce stress and mental fatigue.
If you’re not able to go outside at the moment, the good news is that just looking at photos of nature or watching ‘slow TV’ – real-time footage of outdoor journeys – can offer the same benefits.
Environmental psychologists Stephen and Rachel Kaplan believe it’s because the visual elements in nature provide us with “soft focus”, occupying our attention in a way that lets the mind rest. Another good reason to fill your house with plants too, we say.
Curl up with a good book
In our digitally connected world, it might surprise you to learn that 43% of Brits still read for pleasure at least once a week, with six in 10 favouring physical paperback formats.
Winter is the perfect time to cosy up with a good book, providing you with a mental escape that can offer new perspectives on your current situation. There are multiple proven benefits to your mental, social and emotional wellbeing, too. Regular readers report lower levels of stress and depression, greater empathy and understanding, and more awareness of social issues and cultural diversity.
Plan a fantasy holiday
With international travel still a bit uncertain for the next few months, it’s tricky to make firm plans right now.
In fact, it’s a better time than ever to think clearly about what you want from your next trip and how you can do it sustainably, too. There are some stunning British destinations to be explored, in addition to no-fly trips to Europe, and easy ways to support the real local economies of your destination when you get there.
Wondering if it’s worth planning a trip you can’t actually take? It might help to know that according to a study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, just anticipating your trip can make you happier than actually taking it.
In between now and then, give virtual travel a go. From 360 degree video tours of iconic sights, museums and galleries, to live-streamed Airbnb experiences, it’s easier than ever to travel from your armchair. Reality TV series like the BBC’s Race Across the World, a show documenting an intrepid backpacking competition, might satisfy your wanderlust vicariously too.
Do some yoga (the easy, fuss-free way)
If you’re an early riser you’ll be familiar with the quiet stillness of home before the winter sun rises. If in that moment you can bring yourself to swap your toasty cloud of bedding for the yoga mat (pyjamas welcome), you’ll be greatly rewarded. Slowly wake body and mind with gentle stretching and breathing exercises and bring mindfulness to your whole day.
That’s the beauty of winter yoga. It doesn’t require anything other than the willpower to get on the mat and just 10 minutes can brighten your day. It’s been shown to help reduce stress, balance hormones, boost flexibility and balance, all while warding off depression.
All you need to get started is some clear floor space, a towel and either a live-streamed or pre-recorded YouTube class. A mat, block and blankets are a bonus, so too is a lit candle, aromatherapy oils and calming music or nature sounds.
Reach out to friends and family
Pick up the phone, schedule a video call or write a letter. However you do it, it’s important to stay connected socially even when we’re apart. After months of familiar routines, you might feel you have little to talk about, but you’ll find there’s always something to chat about, even if it’s the weather, TV recommendations or things you’re looking forward to after All This is over.
If you’ve been putting it off, let this article be a gentle nudge to message a friend right now to get something in the diary. We’re all in this together and it can be a relief to realise that behind cheerful-seeming social media posts, others are feeling the January blues too.
Seek professional help if you need to
If you’re experiencing persistent and/or severe low mood, anxiety or trouble sleeping, you’re not alone and help is available. We encourage you to reach out to your GP or use any of the free mental health resources below:
- Contact The Samaritans for free on 116 123