By Mark Turnbull, Health and Wellbeing Practitioner
Blue Monday….how does it feel? During the last full-working week in January, the Monday is said to be one of the most ‘depressing’ days of the year for many people. But why is that? The evidence behind this suggests that there are several reasons and I think it can be useful to consider them using a Cognitive Behavioural approach.
Many of us will have difficult situations and problems to deal with during the post-Christmas slump, this can include poorer physical wellbeing or some financial stresses after Xmas.
We might be struggling for mental motivation, thinking about the debts or credit cards bills, 2016’s challenges or dwelling on the dark cold days that winter brings. Perhaps we have conflict or ambivalence after Christmas (e.g. “I know I need to lose weight after all that wine and choccy, but I don’t think I can at the moment”!).
Physically, the effect of the dark winter days and the indulgent Christmas “Lifestyle” on the body could make us feel low or experience weight gain or low energy levels.
In terms of behaviours (things we do or avoid doing), feeling sad, stressed or cold in winter might be used as a key reason in deciding to put something off or avoid doing it completely (e.g.” I know ive got those new running trainers but it’s too cold and I just don’t feel in the mood for doing it. It’s pointless”).
As our hopes and wishes for the 2016 falter, so too can our mood (emotions)and motivation and we can become stuck in a negative cycle without actively trying to gradually cope better.
Compared to this time last year, I have been in a much lower mood myself and I have reflected on why this is and I think it is really quite simple. In 2015, I was preparing to get married and I had lots going on including two Batchelor parties where I would see all my best friends. I also had some short term and long term goals at home and at work. Finally, I had planned to raise money for three charities by entering three running events-a 10 mile run in April, a 13 mile run in September and finally a marathon in October. So, what is the point of declaring my own circumstances here for you all to read? I believe they reveal of some the key things that help people cope with the New Year ahead and next weeks “Blue Monday” on the 18th January and I will now summarise the main ideas that could help you.
- Reflect on the successes of 2015
Think back to what you did that was worthwhile, positive, helpful and makes you feel proud! What do these successes say about you and your talents and qualities and how can you use them this year?
- Compassion for others
Look out for your friends, family and colleagues. Helping others can help you to feel a little better and you can each benefit from a mutual support and understanding.
- Be Mindful and Aware
Be aware and remember that springtime is approaching and that you can appreciate the warmer weather more after tolerating our chilly winter. Try and take notice of what’s around you such as the colours of the plants, the sounds of the birds, flowers starting to bloom. Appreciate that being cold is a temporary state in the same way that being warm is too…it passes and becomes a memory.
- Goals and Actions
Keep your goals simple and SMART, choosing one important thing for you to that is achievable yet challenging but if completed would be genuinely positive for you. Think about the benefits of achieving this-how will you feel, what will you think of yourself, what will the actions allow you to do next? Make it motivating; write down the benefits of the change and the costs of not changing. Use a diary to set goals and targets. Be patient and nice to yourself if a setback occurs, these things happen but your response and reaction to them is vital in terms of carrying on. Review your progress, share your goals with others, work together with a buddy and reward yourself for any positive changes and improvements as you notice them. Positive affirmations can help, “I can go for a 1 mile run and I can do this!” rather than saying “I can’t be bothered”. Affirmations can energise and motivate us. Consider the challenges and difficulties as possessing opportunities to do things!
- Improve your diet
You cannot cheat your body! If someone made their own ‘homemade petrol’ you probably wouldn’t trust and use that stuff in your car so consider the effects of the stuff you put into your body! Some advice can be found here: www.nhs.uk/livewell/goodfood/Pages/Goodfoodhome.aspx
- Plan a trip or event
Make a decision to get away for some sun or even just somewhere different from the house, office and town you live in. Put these events in the diary and remember these events are part of the reason why we get up for work in the cold each morning and defrost that icy car or standing at the bus stop shivering and moving like Jagger! Explore your local and regional bus time tables, train routes and if able to afford, the flight schedules. Appreciate and enjoy each thing you do without judging or wishing it was perhaps something more exotic or luxurious. You can also go and see a band or a comedian and it doesn’t have to be a famous one, it could be a local act.
- Financial Planning
Consult the Money Advice Service or Step Change regarding any nagging worries, speak to your bank about solutions or ideas for improved financial health and explore the Money Saving Expert website for some of the best deals. Patience is necessary here as if there were likely some quick fixes then you would probably have done it by now. Remember that high APR loans are not helpful in the long term so it’s more helpful to speak to a financial support service rather than a pay-day lender. Try and think medium and longer term as well. If we over-spent in 2015 or at Xmas, then save up throughout the year. If we spend loads on people who we maybe don’t need to, consider having a conversation with them and agreeing to cut down or cut out. Don’t believe that we MUST get someone a present when they got us one. Be flexible and objective-they might have greater resources than you.
- Be creative
Learn a new skill or craft and make something for someone in 2016 to save money. It will be fun to learn something new and being creative is a key ingredient for successful and balanced wellbeing.
- Exercise, Activities and Hobbies (do an experiment!)
You don’t believe that you can improve your mood or energy? Fine, but put it to the test first before believing that as fact! Take notice of your energy levels or mood and then try something out to improve it (e.g. a small jog, a walk through the park, meeting a friend, doing a hobby). Quite often we don’t pay attention to these changes in mood-if it improves something just 1% then it’s an improvement in the right direction! Keep stacking success!
- Seek Advice and help
If we cannot shake off our low mood in the winter, there is an increased risk of that becoming more serious and it’s often helpful to speak to your GP and explore some self-help guides or use online mood management programmes. Living Life to the Full and the Big White Wall are two excellent sources for online advice, as is www.ntw.nhs.uk/pic/selfhelp/
To help myself beat Blue Monday and be happier in January, I have entered some long-distance races so I can do exercise whilst raising money for causes I care about, I have started playing football, I am making healthier meals (but allowing the odd day for wine and chocolate!) and I have set myself some career development goals which involves training. Most of the above tips include things to do and often they are fun and enjoyable! So I hope this helps you to set a goal and to carry it out. If you do, ask yourself “how does it feel?” Good luck!