We can all take action to boost our mood during the cold, dark days of January
Today is often known as Blue Monday – notorious for being the most depressing day of the year.
It was originally a marketing tactic designed by psychologist Dr Cliff Arnall on behalf of Sky Travel to boost airline ticket sales.
PR stunts aside, January can be a particularly difficult month for many people.
Slumped with the post-Christmas crash, we may be struggling financially due to unwise financial decisions in December (lavish gifts for loved ones, expensive food or drinks) and we can be waiting for that payday at the end of January that seems further away with each 24 hours.
Added to that is that January is historically the coldest month of the year in Ireland (remember the big freeze of 2010), the days are short, and the nights are long.
The lack of natural sunlight can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in a lot of people, which may affect their mood and leave them feeling dejected.
Other symptoms may include irritability, appetite loss, lack of interest in hobbies, decreased concentration, lack of libido, insomnia, weight loss or gain – even thinking of suicide.
As if that wasn’t enough, this January we’re dealing with the greatest number of Covid-19 infections the country has seen which has resulted in a hugely restrictive lockdown.
That’s not all – there’s now a more virulent strain of the virus out there creating
massive anxiety in the Irish psyche.
Although this is an extremely challenging time in our history, there are several methods we can use to assuage the negative feelings associated with this time.
A natural mood booster, it releases endorphins which are neurotransmitters that can alleviate anxiety.
It also can release serotonin, dopamine and
norepinephrine which are the chemicals responsible for mood regulation.
Keep a watchful eye on your diet, it can be tempting during challenging times to binge on unhealthy food and drink more than we should.
Try to keep it balanced and varied. Research shows a diet rich in foods like fruit, vegetables and seeds helps protect your mental health.
January is a great time to pick up a new hobby you’ve been meaning to try.
Learn a new language, instrument, or skill or use this time to give up an unhealthy habit – a sense of accomplishment can release those brain chemicals that can make you feel happy.
Placing your focus on acquiring a new skill gives your brain a distraction from all the uncertainty that now surrounds us.
We can’t meet friends in the places where we would traditionally meet them – however thanks to the wonders of technology, you’re never too far from a friendly voice.
Try to set up video calls with friends and family and check in with them. Remember, that you may not be the only one struggling with January – it’s incredibly common.
I know it’s difficult right now to plan for the future, many of you may be out of work.
It is also difficult to plan when the future is so uncertain, but I would suggest planning small events to look forward to. Lockdowns can change this but you can always reschedule things.
There is a tendency amongst many people to focus on what they can’t control and the negatives in their life. It can make a huge difference to switch our attention to what is within our control and the positive aspects of our lives.
We cannot control the virus or the pandemic but with a little practise we can control how we react to things outside our control.
If we instead think of four things we can be thankful for – for example family, friends, pets, our health – it can have a hugely beneficial impact on your mood.
January is a difficult time of the year, but remember to be kind to others and yourself.
If you’re feeling you can’t deal with negative feelings on your own, please contact your GP or log on to iacp.ie where you can find more than 2,500 trained and accredited therapists based nationwide – many of whom are working via phone/video call – who can talk to you today.
Bernie Hackett is an accredited member and chairperson of the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP).