January always feels to me like cracking open a new notebook and feeling the nervous possibilities of that crisp blank page. Whether you’ve got your whole year planned out ahead of you or you’re gonna fly by the seat of your pants, for many of us, January’s newness can be a blessing and a curse, with the unknown creating a palpable sense of panic. This makes January the perfect time to look after yourself, experiment with wellness and make self-care a real priority. And no, I’m not talking about food fads, drop a dress size diets or dangerous juice cleanses – I’m talking about wellness activities that’ll snap you out of the January blues and that you can practice throughout 2018.
Here’s 10 wellness hacks and trends to beat the January blues:
In 2017 veganism went from trippy hippy lifestyle choice to the mainstream in a big way. I went veggie at 10 and I’m thrilled that more people – including celebs like Miley Cyrus – are swapping pork for plants – mostly because I don’t have to answer ‘where do you get your protein?’ half as much as I used to. The benefits of a vegan diet have been widely publicised but briefly, going vegan will give you extra energy, lower your cholesterol and you’ll do your bit for our furry friends and Mother Nature. According to the American Diabetes Association a vegan (or just vegetarian) diet can prevent and treat diabetes. If you’re still not convinced why you should go vegan, here’s a few more reasons or read my post about things you should know before you go vegan.
Veganuary, where you dip your toe into veganism for the month of January, is an excellent way to give your body the nutrients it’s crying out for after overindulging at Christmas. Not only will your skin be glowing by 31 January but you’ll be so busy in the kitchen you won’t even notice the gloomy evenings. Think vegans can’t eat anything? The official Veganuary site has plenty of recipes to keep you cooking up a storm, try this yummy vegan lentil loaf or here’s my recipe for a delicious vegan lentil stew
How many times a day do you tell yourself to just breathe? Years ago, when I first started to experience anxiety, my doctor told me to practice breathing properly. Breathe in through your nose, hold it and exhale through your mouth. Repeat until you feel your anxiety or panic attack begin to dissipate. This sounds so simplistic but over the years it’s always worked for me in moments of bad anxiety. There are many strands of breathwork– from holotropic to radiance – but whatever route you go down, working on your breathing will really pull you into the present. When you find yourself feeling anxious this month, breathing properly will stop the panic free fall in its tracks. Here’s a useful overview of how breathing can change your life. Simple, free and you can do it anywhere.
- Animal Magic.
There is no greater therapy than animals so, when you’re feeling blue this January, beg, steal or borrow a cat or dog. If you haven’t got your own lovable moggy or doggy, animal shelters are always looking for cuddlers who can hold and stroke the animals for an hour a day and patting an animal actually releases serotonin so everyone’s a winner. Like you needed an excuse to play with puppies. Depending on how much time you have or how much you can commit to it, fostering kittens and adult cats gets them out of tiny cages in the shelter and into a loving home until they find their furever home. You can always try cat or dog sitting through a site like Cat in a Flat which means you get the fun of a furry companion and make a few dollars on the side.
We all know that the endorphins released during exercise are stellar mood boosters but in winter I’m practically a shut-in and the last thing I want to do is exercise. You don’t need to join a gym (and then dodge it for the rest of the year), all you need is a brisk walk to get those feelgood hormones pumping. According to this Real Simple article on the winter blues, a 2005 Harvard study found that walking briskly for 35 minutes a day did wonders for mild depression. It’s also been proven that upbeat music directly lifts your mood so crank up the Chemical Brothers on your ipod and make your walk something you really look forward to each day.
OK so this might not be what you consider to be wellness, but a good clear-out of things you no longer need (or just never used) is an excellent way to clear your mind, let go of the past and feel a bit lighter going into 2018. Over Christmas I cleared out all my old college files, folders and books from my parents’ house before starting on all the crap I’ve kept from my teens (including a wallet full of Leo DiCaprio photos – I’ll fight you for it). It took hours and was a complete pain but it felt bizarrely uplifting to get rid of so much baggage. I’m not planning on going fully Marie Kondo any time soon but I really want to become someone with less stuff. Whether you’re a secret hoarder like me or not, I can’t recommend a January declutter enough.
6. Get some sleep.
After years of fetishising being too busy to sleep, there’s finally some backlash against the notion that you need to wreck yourself in order to succeed. My eyebags say about time! The older I get, the more I feel like I’m actually drunk when I’ve had a bad night’s sleep – and not the good type of drunk either – so I’m determined to sleep better in 2018. Before Christmas I listened to the Fresh Air podcast episode Why We Sleep where Matthew Walker describes circadian rhythms and it was fascinating, in particular the bits about how caffeine works and why a drink before bedtime doesn’t work (booo!). Sleep deprivation causes over 5000 road traffic incidents a year in the US and famous accidents like Exxon Valdez spill and Air France 447 crash have been attributed to lack of sleep. Beyond scary. This January I’ll be putting Arianna Huffington’s sleep hygiene rules to the test, and, if you want to do one major thing to look after yourself this month and knock the January blues on its head, you should join me (in your own bed, of course).
7. Gratitude practice.
Like veganism, another wellness trend I’ve really seen enter the mainstream is the concept of gratitude. I first came across the idea of a daily gratitude practice in Gala Darling’s Radical Self Love book but I know other wellness experts like Louise Hay have been espousing its virtues for years. Gratitude puts everything in perspective and is essential if you find yourself consumed with negative glass-half-empty thoughts or comparing yourself to others. All you need to do is start every day by listing 5 things you’re grateful for or you can create your list before you go to bed at night so you’re hitting the pillow with a head full of positive thoughts. Keep it specific so that every day you’re thinking of more things (and so you’re not writing ‘my job, my man, my family’ every single day) so it can be simple things like you’re grateful for your toes!
8. Keep busy by learning something new.
You can spend January binge-watching Game of Thrones if that makes you happy but I always feel like I have a much more positive mindset when I’m learning something new. The new year is the perfect time to take up a new hobby, rediscover something you loved but stopped having time for, or gain a new skill you can add to your slightly dusty CV. You don’t need to spend a lot of money either. See if LinkedIn is offering any courses for free or, if you’re interested in brushing up your social media skills, Sara Tasker has online courses to take your Instagram skills to the next level. Rediscover your love of embroidery and create some badass feminist designs or finally start creating the blog or podcast you’ve been thinking about for ages. The world is your oyster for this tip – the key thing is that you keep busy doing something you enjoy learning so you’ve less time for the moody introspection we can easily lapse into in winter.
9. Start journaling
For some weird reason we associate keeping a journal with being a teenage girl and writing angsty lists about boys but this is all wrong. Journaling is a really effective way to organise your thoughts and it’s something I swear by. When I don’t take to the page, I feel weirdly frustrated, like I have a lot bottled up, just sitting on my chest. It’s such a release to just write freely about your thoughts and feelings without thinking of who might read it. If you’ve never kept a diary or journal, author and podcast host Katie Daleabout’s book Let It Out (and her podcast of the same name) will guide you through journaling and how best to keep a daily journal so you can maximise the positive results. Next time you’re feeling the blues hitting you hard, grab a pen and paper and let your hand run wild.
10. Random acts of kindness.
This is a bit of a ‘new year, new you’ cliche but for me, random acts of kindness are things we should do more often – if not every day – but for some reason life gets in the way. Make it your mission to do at least one kind thing each day and you’ll soon find yourself focusing on this bright spot of your day, rather than the moody blues. It could be as simple as telling the girl next to you on the bus that you love her handbag or leaving a larger tip for your hairdresser than you usually would. You could leave a positive review about a local business online, email that blogger you love and tell her how much you enjoy her posts, swap Starbucks for the tiny local café you’ve never gone into. No matter how small it is, doing something good for another person is a fast track route to feeling good about yourself and, you never know, it might just brighten someone else’s day too.
If you want to read more, you might enjoy this post I did last year for Irish site Maven46.com about approaching the new year with realistic expectations, or check out my last blog post about what I learned in 2017. If you have any wellness hacks for surviving the January blues, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.