Did you know January 24th is now known as ‘Blue Monday’? Following a study by Dr Arnall at the University of Cardiff, it was christened as the most depressing day of the year. The research methods behind this study are far from scientifically sound, but it is undeniable that January is a time of low spirits for many of us.
Christmas is the main culprit. All the excitement and anticipation throughout December, the month long build up of Christmas hits and festive food, then suddenly it’s all over in a matter of days. And if your Christmas was anything like mine, your clothes are noticeably tighter, your bank balance is in hiding and your liver is one more alcoholic drink away from handing in its letter of resignation.
Now we’re in the third national lockdown and the forecast for this month seems even bleaker, but the good news is there are ways to stay optimistic while locked down in January. Here’s 10 ideas to get you started.
1. Make plans
When you are feeling low, it is important to give yourself something to look forward to. The constantly changing government restrictions admittedly make it harder to plan in advance but even filling your calendar with the smallest of plans can make a big difference. Decide on a day you will go a long walk at a nearby park or nature spot. Plan a romantic date night for you and your partner. Arrange a group video call with family or friends (alcohol optional but encouraged). Organise a virtual film night using Netflix Party to watch the film in sync with your friends and Zoom to chat to each other throughout the evening.
2. Exercise (for the endorphins, not weight loss!)
My gym membership single-handedly kept me sane while Nottingham entered Tier 3 in December. Now that gyms are shut, I am doing my best to continue with regular exercise because I know first-hand the positive impact it has on my mental health. Don’t exercise to punish yourself for unhealthy eating habits or Christmas weight gain, exercise because you want to feel good, physically and mentally. Check out my blog post ‘Easy ways to stay active at home’ for some useful exercise tips.
3. Set resolutions for 2021
New Year’s Resolutions are like marmite – you either love them or hate them. Personally I think they’re great. New Year is an annual opportunity to really look at your life and consider what you would like to improve on. Setting yourself a goal or two for the year ahead will give you something productive to focus on and help to distract you from dwelling on the crappiness of lockdown.
4. Make healthy lifestyle choices
Let’s be honest with ourselves, it’s hardly surprising that so many of us are feeling down in the dumps when our bodies have spent the last month running entirely on booze and Quality Street. It’s time to cut down on the junk food, drink more water and get back to a proper sleep pattern. If you struggle with motivation, consider starting a habit tracker to note down your progress and read my advice on how to stay productive during a pandemic.
5. Write down your thoughts
January is the perfect time of year to start a diary. Keeping a written record of your thoughts and feelings can relieve stress and provide a means of tracking your mood over time. But becoming the next Bridget Jones isn’t the only way to benefit from writing down your thoughts – whenever I am struggling with my anxiety, I go to the notes app on my phone and write down everything on my mind. When I’m done, I re-read what I have written and then I delete it. When you have what feels like a hundred different worries racing around your head at once, seeing them all written down as separate thoughts can help you feel more in control.
6. Make a January bucket list
I know bucket lists are supposed to be for lifetime goals, but why not take a little artistic license with this concept? Make a list of films or books that you’ve always wanted to watch or read and then aim to tick them off by the end of the month. If they have a feel-good plot, even better. Lacking in inspiration? Have a look on Google for some ready made lists. Rotten Tomatoes and Good Reads are always my first point of call for film and book recommendations respectively.
7. Take a break from social media
There are positives to social media (I have to say that, I work in digital marketing) but the reality is that platforms like Facebook and Instagram are extremely damaging for our mental health. They are overwhelmingly used for bragging, from people showing off their expensive lockdown purchases to parents broadcasting how amazing they are at homeschooling (we get it Karen, you taught your five year old to spell a big word they’ll never use and now you think they’re on the fast-track for Oxbridge). What we see on social media is exaggerated and far from an accurate depiction of that person’s life. A quote that has stayed with me is don’t judge your life according to someone else’s highlight reel. So, do yourself a favour and reduce the time you spend scrolling. You’ll thank me later!
8. Start a new hobby, challenge or project
Thanks to the internet, we have access to all sorts of wonderful learning resources. YouTube has lots of tutorials that will help get you started with a new challenge, for example learning to knit. Pinterest is full of inspiration and guidance for your next DIY project. If you’re looking for a bigger, more long-term challenge, you could even begin learning a second language, either by enrolling on an online course or finding a qualified tutor to give you virtual lessons.
9. Limit time spent watching or listening to the news
It’s important to stay informed, especially when restrictions can change at a day’s notice, but obsessively checking every news app you have access to will leave you feeling stressed, anxious and depressed. Keep up to date with what’s going on so Boris can’t slap a £1,000 fine on your head for any accidental rule breaking, but don’t let the chaos of this pandemic consume your thoughts and emotions. Personally I avoid all online news and limit myself to one TV news briefing a day, which suits me fine!
10. Embrace the shit storm that is life
The unpredictable nature of this pandemic and life itself means that there will be days where you just have zero control over your mood. Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. Accept your mood for what it is and give yourself permission to spend the day in bed or watch films on the sofa or enjoy a big fat takeaway or whatever it is that you find comfort in. The next day you will hopefully feel more upbeat and ready to get back on track.
What are your top tips for staying positive? Let me know in the comments.