Tomorrow, ‘Blue Monday’, is said to be the most depressing day of the year; the concept was publicised in 2005 by a holiday company (thanks guys) which claimed to have calculated the date using an equation; they added up the effects of the cold weather and dark evenings, post Christmas debt and lack of motivation based on an assumption that most peoples’ New Years resolutions have fallen through by the third week of January.
I personally don’t buy into the whole phenomenon of ‘Blue Monday’. I believe it’s more of a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I will admit that the post-Christmas winter months, in particular, can have a negative impact on how we feel if we allow them to.
As my whole philosophy is centred around taking care of both our mental and physical health equally, I thought I would share some ‘happy tips’ I find really beneficial, and which aren’t just exclusive to winter. It’s not to say these things cure or eliminate feelings of sadness – that’s not the idea, but they can be used as coping mechanisms to help manage our thoughts and feelings.
Although we tend to want to hibernate during the winter period, studies show that actually getting a daily dose of sunlight (even if it’s not particularly sunny outside) can boost our serotonin (the happy hormone) levels, lower blood pressure and help to regulate our circadian rhythms, improving metabolic processes in the body.
There has also been research done which suggests that there are certain geological shapes that can only be found in nature which, when recognised by our brain, can reduce cortisol levels without us even noticing.
So, although it may be tempting to spend all day indoors and drive everywhere when the weather is cold, try and get outside at some point in your day, even if it’s just a walk in a local park or a cup of tea in the garden. Just remember to wrap up warm!.
EAT BRAIN FOOD
We all know food can affect how we feel, a tasty meal can be just what our bodies and brains need for a little boost. I believe there are two types of ‘comfort foods’ which are important to include in your diet.
The first kind of ‘comfort foods’, which should be eaten most of the time, are homemade meals full of good ingredients that nourish our bodies and brains. For example:
- Oily fish are brilliant sources of Omega-3 fats, which can be helpful for your brain function.
- Vegetables and legumes contain prebiotic fibre i.e., gut bugs that play a critical role in determining your mood.
- Complex carbohydrates like oats and grains can help regulate blood sugar levels and therefore stabilise mood swings.
- Fruits such as bananas contain B6, which is thought to help increase serotonin levels.
The second kind of ‘comfort food’ is something indulgent (a giant bowl of pasta, a pub roast, fish-fingers and chips or chocolate brownies are some of my favourites, mmm). These aren’t the healthiest options, but they are oh so delicious and definitely put a smile on my face.
My advice here would be to make sure you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet, getting a good variety of vitamins, minerals and ‘brain foods’, but don’t restrict yourself from indulging every now and then.
IDENTIFY YOUR ‘IDEAL-SELF’
This is slightly more of an abstract one. My old pal, Thich Naht Hanh, puts it beautifully “we are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living.”
I think a lot of us have an ‘ideal self’: a version of ourselves somewhere in the future, at a point when we’ve reached a certain goal or aspiration: a weight on the scales, a dream job, a sum in the bank…I’m naming cliché ones here, but it can be anything.
There’s nothing wrong with having an ‘ideal’. I think it’s essential to have goals and aspirations. The problem arises when we attach our happiness to that ideal – “I’ll be happy when…”. Relying on something in the future to shape how we feel can be risky business, because life often doesn’t go to plan. It can also cause us to put pressure on ourselves, and feel like we have failed if we don’t reach that ideal.
So perhaps take a minute to ask yourself, “do I often think I’ll be happy when I’m…”? If so, perhaps try and identify this and work on ways of creating happiness in the present, whilst still working towards whatever you would like to achieve in the future.
“There’s no such thing as a selfless good-deed”, quote Joey Tribbiani (slightly less profound than Thich Naht Hanh, but wise in his own way). In a way I agree with our Joey; even if it’s something we don’t want to do, we do get a good feeling when we help others. It’s thought that altruistic behaviours release endorphins and distract us from our own problems. I certainly believe this to be true, so make it your aim to do at least one kind thing a day, no matter how small.
INCREASE HUMAN CONNECTION
I read somewhere that loneliness is believed to be as detrimental to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Regardless of whether is is accurate or not, it does make sense that feeling isolated is bad for us. After all, we are naturally a social species.
With social media, we are digitally more connected than ever. In many ways this is a really positive thing; it allows me to stay in touch with my family all over the world, and I have met some incredible people through my online accounts. On the flip side, social media can also reduce our connection to others on a human level and make us feel very isolated as a result.
Feeling a part of something can be really beneficial to our mental health, whether that’s going to a fitness class, organising a dinner party with friends, finding local events or joining a club. It can be a great way to meet new people and discover new interests.