Friday 17 January 2020

Beat the blues: The best January mood-boosters

Stock photo
Stock photo

Anna Magee

It was Divorce Day yesterday, and it's Blue Monday on the 20th.

There are weeks ahead of booze deprivation if you're doing Dry January, and of steak deprivation if you're doing Veganuary. You're also likely to be heavier and more tired after the Christmas festivities. This is January, ladies and gentlemen, and it's bleak. Here are a few simple things to help smooth the road to spring...

Book your summer holiday

Research has found that anticipation of an event, such as your next holiday, actually evokes more positive emotions than remembering what happened on your last one. You can even use an app (such as Ready Set Holiday!) to help you count down the days to your next trip. But make it a holiday or an experience you're anticipating, not buying your next car. A paper published in the journal Psychological Science looked at the research on the subject and found that looking forward to events makes us happier than buying material goods.

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Mind your magnesium

"For your mood, your muscles, your energy and the health of your mind/body, keep your magnesium level up," says Dr Jenny Goodman, author of new book Staying Alive in Toxic Times. This is especially important in the winter. "Winter is cold which makes our muscles contract, including the small blood vessels in our hands and feet which can cause cramps or blue/white fingers and toes - magnesium can help with this." She suggests eating your greens and considering a supplement.

Take a cold shower

One clinical trial suggested that taking a short cold shower 2-3 times a week could have antidepressant effects. Exposure to cold is known to activate the sympathetic nervous system and increase levels of the brain's upbeat chemicals such as beta-endorphins and noradrenaline. "Additionally, due to the high density of cold receptors in the skin, a cold shower sends an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which could have antidepressant effects," the researchers concluded.

Be body neutral

We've had decades of beating our bodies up for being fat and recently, the pendulum has swung the other way with the rise of body positivity and love-my-fat influencers. The new body neutrality is about not having to think anything much about your body; if you don't love it, so what? "I used to exist in an echo chamber of body positivity and self-love," says personal trainer and influencer Tally Rye, author of new book Train Happy. But a client once said to me "Why do I have to love my body? Why can't I just feel neutral about it? Why does it have to be such a big deal?" Could 2020 be the year we focus less on the look of our bodies and more on actually doing things with them instead?

High-speed cleaning

While last decade we were obsessed with HIIT, this year get ready for its more achievable cousin, HIIPA, which stands for High Intensity Incidental Physical Activity. That's short, sharp bursts of intense movement that can be incorporated into your daily routine - without setting foot in the gym.

From climbing stairs as fast as you can to carrying heavy shopping home, or even cleaning the shower at high speed - each of these activities is an opportunity for calorie burn and the subsequent mental health benefits.

Do the 3:1 happiness trick

One researcher has identified a simple equation to help us increase our day-to-day happiness and coined it The Positivity Ratio. Barbara Frederickson found that if we had three positive emotions for every one negative emotion, we could increase our overall daily happiness. If you're annoyed about something, shelve it for 10 minutes and think about three positive things instead.

Learn the art of the power break

Your body has its own 24-hour clock, known as the "ultradian cycle", says stress and sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, author of The Little Book of Sleep. "You might think you can keep working, shopping, cooking or cleaning for hours on end but, for this cycle to function at its best, you need to take a break every 90 minutes." She suggests "5555 breathing" - taking five breaths made up of five counts in and five counts out, for five minutes, five times a day. Do it before you eat and sleep, or during the day when you need to refresh your mind or calm down.

Join the CBD converts

There's a reason everyone is banging on about CBD. Although the science is still patchy (there are some 2,100 published research papers on CBD, but many are small or on animals), anecdotally, many people find that it works and it's quick, especially for calming. Trouble is, it can taste gruesome. The best tasting CBD I have found is BetterYou CBD Daily Oral Spray which has a lime-citrus flavour.

Filter out the drama

During those moments when you're losing it or about to, try this to help you respond with consideration instead of rage. "Imagine you have a pair of glasses and every time you put them on, you are able to objectively observe the world around you," suggests HeatherAsh Amara, author of new book The Warrior Heart Practice. "Your observer glasses filter out the drama of your story, to reveal only the truth that lies beneath." It sounds woo-woo but it can be an effective mind shift. By learning to separate your emotions and thoughts from what's actually going on, you're able to step away and formulate a more measured response.

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