From Wordle to the Wim Hof Method: 18 ways lift your mood on Blue Monday
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The weather’s cold, the nights are long and Christmas is becoming a distant memory – it's no wonder that January 17 has been dubbed Blue Monday. Here are 18 ways to lift your spirits during the winter months.
1. Let the light in
Sunlight has many benefits for our wellbeing.
A 15-minute dose of rays on our skin can top up production of Vitamin D, which contributes to boosting immunity and strong, healthy bones.
It also helps the body to produce the feelgood hormone serotonin. In autumn and winter, a lack of serotonin can trigger the form of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Here in East Anglia we can expect between just 50 and 60 hours of sunlight in January, so it’s important to get outdoors and make the most of the sun when it does appear.
Light boxes, which mimic natural sunlight and stimulate the brain to produce serotonin, may be beneficial for treating SAD.
But if you experience a persistent low mood, it’s important to talk to your GP.
2. Breathing space
The way in which we breathe is important to both mind and body, says Kate Smith, founder of Norfolk-based Slow You Down Wellbeing.
“Scientists have found a relaxation response is triggered in the body at around a restful six exhalations a minute,” she says.
“This simple, uplifting breathing technique will help to re-energise the body and calm any mind chatter.”
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1. Spend a few minutes getting comfortable just where you are. This could be in a sitting, standing or lying down position. You can choose to breathe through the nose or mouth and also to close your eyes - whatever your body feels is right.
2. Imagine your breath being at the base of the spine and as you start to take a deep breath in, imagine that breath is now working up through to the top of the spine. As you begin to exhale, imagine that breath is now moving out through the top of the head.
3. You can repeat this for up to 10 minutes still picturing the breath moving up through the spine and out through the top of the head. You will notice your breath becoming slower and deeper through each inhalation and exhalation.
3. Nurture your gut
Eating warming, nourishing foods at this time of year can help to nurture and support our health, says Suffolk-based nutritionist and gut health specialist Emma Jamieson.
“While a New Year’s resolution may seem like a good idea, reducing calories and opting for smoothies, juices and salads goes against our bodies’ natural instincts when it’s cold outside, and can be hard to maintain,” she says.
“Instead, think about opting for healthy comfort foods; porridge, soups, stews, poached fruit and warming spices are all great options for the colder months. Choosing to slow cook meals and using a variety of seasonal vegetables and fruit will help recover from any Christmas excess while working with the body rather than against it.
“Winter is typically the time for coughs and colds and flu. To support the immune system over the next couple of months, try to include foods that are rich in vitamins A, C and D, and zinc. They can boost the function of the different components of the immune system, as well as showing individual benefits for reducing the length of the common cold and supporting the health of the respiratory system.
“Food rich in these nutrients include yellow/orange fruit and vegetables, leafy green vegetables, oily fish and eggs for vitamin A; tomatoes, peppers, kiwis and berries for vitamin C; oily fish, dairy and mushrooms for vitamin D and seafood, pumpkin seeds, eggs and meat for zinc.”
4. Train your brain
Give your grey matter a workout by doing a daily puzzle. It could be Sudoku – or why not try Wordle, the internet brainteaser that’s taking the world by storm? Deceptively simple, you have six goes at guessing a five-letter word. It’s incredibly satisfying when you manage to get it in two!
5. Express yourself
Leah Larwood experienced the therapeutic powers of writing when she became a mother.
She now holds regular writing for wellbeing workshops, and says that it can be particularly beneficial during the winter months.
“For many, writing can be an excellent way to crystallise ideas or emotions and explore a part of yourself wishing to have a voice,” she says.
“We tend to be less active and more reflective in winter. Some people find the season trickier than others and for those who perhaps find it a challenge, writing for wellbeing approaches might be a good way to explore how you’re feeling, allowing a way to process your experiences and the things you find difficult about this time of year.”
Her tips for getting started are:
Buy a journal, something you will really enjoy writing in. It can be lined or blank – blank pages sometimes offer the freedom to include drawings alongside your words.
Start with some free writing each morning. Write for 10-15 minutes non-stop about anything that comes into your mind. Just let whatever comes land, even if it doesn’t make much sense. Don’t look back at what you’ve written until the end and don’t worry about grammar or spellings. The aim isn’t to create a fine piece of literature, it’s more about the process and allowing your thoughts and feelings to download onto the page.
Try using a prompt, such as ‘today winter feels like...’ or ‘in winter I need...’.
Another way to approach it is to write a list of things you are grateful for – this can include anything and everything. You can do this as a one-off list: ‘in winter I’m grateful for...’, writing as many things as you can, or you could write three things a day throughout winter that you’re grateful for each day.
Leah’s five-week wellbeing writing course, Winter the Spring of Genius, starts on Monday, January 31 from 6.30pm-8pm, held via Zoom. She is also holding a two-hour session, A Love Letter to Self on Valentine’s Day Eve, February 13, from 3-5pm. To find out more visit themoonlab.net/writing-therapy
6. Only disconnect
Smartphones – they're so useful, yet so distracting. How many times have you totally lost track of time scrolling through your social media apps or watching funny cat videos on YouTube? To set yourself up for a good night’s sleep, experts recommend shutting down your screens at least an hour before bedtime – so go analogue and wind down with a book instead.
7. Try the Wim Hof Method
A freezing shower might not sound like the sort of thing that would entice you to get out of bed on a chilly January morning, but cold water therapy is one of the pillars of the Wim Hof Method.
His programme has fans around the world, and claims to increase energy, promote better sleep, reduce stress and strengthen the immune system among other benefits through committed regular practice of a specially devised conscious breathing technique and cold showers (or even ice baths).
8. Take a lunchbreak
How often do you eat al desko, sandwich in one hand, replying to emails with the other? If you’re not taking proper screen breaks during the day it’s likely to affect your concentration, leave you feeling sluggish is a recipe for indigestion and, in the long-term, could even lead to burnout.
So reclaim your lunchbreak. Block out time in your diary every day, move away from your screen to eat and go out for a walk and top up your vitamin D.
9. Clear out your clutter
Clearing your home of things that you don’t need will change your life for the better, says Marianne Gibbs, Norfolk-based author of the book Clutter Control Your Life.
“New things can’t come into your life if it’s full of old stuff silting up your home and your brain; so please don’t put off doing it,” she says.
Easy places Marianne recommends to start include the cupboard under the sink, the cupboard under the stairs and the airing cupboard.
“None of these places is likely to contain anything that’s sentimental, so should be quick and straightforward to do. Once you have done these spaces you can move on to the more tricky areas of your home,” she says.
“Of course having done it, you will have to learn how to keep clutter free. Think of it in the same way you think of weeding the garden, you do it and a fortnight later the weeds are back. It’s the same with clutter; if you don’t keep on top of it, you will always have it because it will always creep back.”
Marianne's book, Clutter Control Your Life, £9.99 plus £2 postage and packing, can be ordered by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, with £1 from every sale being donated to Asperger East Anglia.
10. Get crafty
As many people have discovered during the pandemic, crafting can be a great way of looking after your wellbeing.
As well as being an enjoyable hobby, getting absorbed in a creative activity can provide a challenge, help relieve boredom and can even alleviate the symptoms of some mental health issues.
At Stuart Race’s shop The Woolpatch, in Long Melford, he emphasises not only the benefits of crafting for individuals, but also the social benefits of crafting together.
“Social isolation is a real problem in rural areas, and crafting can provide opportunities for like-minded knitters, and those who crochet and sew, to come together to share patterns and methods – as well as have a natter and a cup of tea! Social support and positive relationships are valuable for crafters of any age,” says Stuart.
“Every day from Tuesday to Friday at my shop I hold ‘Knit and Natter’ sessions where crafters can bring along their current knitting, crochet or sewing projects and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee and the company of fellow crafters. There are lots of local craft clubs in Suffolk and Norfolk.”
To get started with techniques and for inspiration, YouTube is a great resource – Stuart has his own channel, thewoolpatch, and his show includes a Tony Hart-style Gallery where the community can show off their creations.
He says that knitting, crochet and sewing are great crafts for beginners.
“You don’t need a big budget to start – just some needles or a hook and some yarn. You can pick these items up for under £10 at your local yarn shop or even cheaper at your local charity shop. Then all you need to do is create something.”
And here is Stuart’s pattern for the ultimate first knit – a scarf. Tutorials showing you how to cast on, knit garter stitch and cast off are available on YouTube.
You will need:
Super chunky yarn
Cast on 36 stitches (or more if you want a wider scarf).
Knit every stitch. This is called garter stitch in the knitting world where you knit every stitch and every row.
Keep knitting every stitch until you use all your yarn. If you want your scarf longer then get another ball of yarn!
Then finish your scarf when it’s at your desired length by casting off.
11. Turn it up
Working from home? When a song that you love comes on to the radio, turn it up and dance like nobody’s watching. Unless you’re in the middle of a Zoom call with your boss, of course.
It will get your heart rate going and help release those feelgood endorphins which can help with that mid-afternoon motivation slump.
12. Connect with nature
During the pandemic, many of us have felt the benefits of reconnecting with nature.
For an extra boost, Kate Smith of Slow You Down Wellbeing recommends forest bathing.
“Forest bathing is simply the mindful practice of slowing down and immersing yourself in a forest atmosphere,” says Kate.
“Here’s the interesting sciency bit! Studies have shown spending just two hours among trees can help reduce blood pressure and lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Scientists have also found trees release essential oils called phytoncides, which have an antimicrobial effect on human bodies, boosting the immune system.”
13. Get moving
Humans are not built to be sedentary, but modern lifestyles – many of us spend our working days sat at a desk and our leisure time looking at screens – don't exactly encourage us to get moving, which is one of the simplest things you can do to improve your health.
The NHS recommends that adults aged between 19 and 64 should do some type of physical activity every day. Exercising just once or twice a week can reduce the risk of heart disease or stroke. And it can really benefit mental health too.
The official recommendation is at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week – and things like pushing a lawn mower or brisk walking count. Or try for 75 minutes of vigorous activity, such as running (the NHS’s Couch to 5k programme is an excellent place to start), swimming and sports like football and netball.
The trick to incorporating exercise into your life is to find an activity that you love rather than one that feels like a chore. For suggestions see nhs.uk/live-well
14. Make every day your day for best
Have you got items that you love but that you save for best? Maybe clothes, shoes or crockery? Make every day your day for best. There’s no point having things that are hidden away and rarely used – dig them out and enjoy them now.
15. Feed the birds
You don’t have to go far to experience the benefits of nature – bird watching is another hobby which is booming at the moment, and you can do it in your garden, on your balcony or in your local park.
From January 28-30, the RSPB is holding its annual Big Garden Birdwatch – to take part, all you have to do is sign up at rspb.org.uk and count the number of birds you see during a one-hour period and record the results.
16. Plant something
Nurturing plants is shown to have a positive effect on wellbeing, from lowering stress and anxiety levels and improving your mood to helping to lower your blood pressure through physical activity. So dig in and feel the benefits.
17. Time out
It’s easy to rush through life focused on the next task on your to-do list.
But when you stop noticing the world around you it can have a detrimental effect on your mental wellbeing.
Mindfulness is a type of meditation where you focus on what you’re feeling and sensing.
It encourages you to slow down and reconnect with yourself, so, for example if you’re eating, you really zone in on how the food tastes, how it smells and the texture.
A popular way of beginning to explore mindfulness is through an app.
Two of the best known, Calm and Headspace, are packed with mindfulness exercises and both offer free trials. Calm is especially popular for its soothing bedtime stories - some read by famous folk.
18. And relax...
Reflexology is a relaxing therapy that is applied by a reflexologist working on the feet or hands, providing stimulus to various points (the reflexes) that correspond to the relevant areas in the body.
And, says East Anglian holistic therapist Sarah Groves, founder of Feel Good Therapies, there are several ways in which it can be particularly beneficial in winter.
“As with all massage, reflexology generates heat in the body and improves circulation, which can warm up cold hands and feet, plus soothe achy muscles and joints,” she says.
“With the way the treatment encourages the body to release toxins it can reduce inflammation in the body, helping to ease conditions, such as arthritis, that can worsen at this time of year.
“And by stimulating the lymphoid reflexes, the lymphatic system can flow more efficiently and immunity is strengthened. Also, with regular reflexology, sleep may be improved. Research has shown that good quality sleep boosts the T Cells (white blood cells) in the body that fight off infection, so they are an essential part of the immune system.”
It can also benefit people’s mental wellbeing.
“Without the stimulus of the sun a significant part of the brain, called the hypothalamus, can stop functioning properly and this can cause an increase of melatonin (the hormone which makes us feel sleepy) and a decrease of serotonin (the hormone which regulates mood, appetite and sleep),” says Sarah.
“Reflexology is a great way to work the endocrine (hormonal) system to stimulate and balance where needed. It can be a fabulous energiser and mood enhancer, not only because of how we can work so intricately and inwardly with the body, encouraging and promoting its own healing capabilities, but also because it feels good!”
To find out more, email Sarah at email@example.com