In my fashion journalist days, I would start the new year with a post on the best buys in the January sales. When I wrote about retail I would often feel dispirited because I felt that my work wasn’t meaningful. It would be more lucrative to write about shopping, and there is still a place in my heart for fashion, but since I wrote my book about my dad and the grieving process, I find that I have little to say on the topic. I’m compelled to create content on mental health, grief and how to thrive in difficult circumstances. The reality is that January sucks for a lot of people, regardless of numbing one’s pain with retail therapy. As I write this I can hear the rain pummelling the streets littered with wilted pine trees, stripped of their former sparkle waiting to be snatched up by refuse collectors. I don’t think there is anything more symbolic of the bleak midwinter than abandoned Christmas trees. The last few weeks have been rough, but I have come to expect it at this time of the year. Winter doldrums are pretty inevitable, with post the Christmas come-down, the freezing temperatures and long, dark nights. However it is still possible to find joy in these austere months, even when you are living with a mental illness. I find that small, positive choices ameliorate seasonal malady. These are little adjustments, nothing too overwhelming or taxing, but enough to see you through the rest of the season, safe in the knowledge that spring is not so far away.
Eat well. Don’t go on a fad diet that will push you near to the precipice of starvation. The winter is tough enough and it’s hard to muster any cheer if you’re hungry all the time. There’s a toxic narrative perpetuated by the diet industry that insists December’s excesses need to be paid for with penitence. We’re manipulated by advertising and marketing to over-consume in December, only to be made to feel inferior and insecure in January. Even if you have gained a few pounds over Christmas, that doesn’t mean that you need to pay for it by becoming an updated and improved, shiner version of yourself. You don’t owe the world a transformation because you are already good enough. Eat well; choose nourishing, warming food that will sustain you through the cold and the rain. It’s always sensible to eat healthily and good nutrition is beneficial to mental health, but particularly when the nights are long and the weather is dismal.
Don’t hibernate. Everyone’s social life tends to curtail in January, which can lead to feelings of isolation. Make an effort to stay in touch with people you care about. Most of us are a bit skint in January so rather than going out, invite friends over for a cosy bowl of pasta and a glass of wine, or meet them for coffee at the weekend. It’s important to feel connected at the best of times, but particularly when it’s tempting to dive under the duvet and stay home. Contact people who you suspect might be vulnerable; they will appreciate the assurance that they are in your thoughts. Providing support to someone else will improve your own mood.
Indulge in something nice. It doesn’t have to be expensive or flashy. A warm bath, a boxset and a bowl of ice cream will do the job. Just the gesture of doing something pleasing for yourself is empowering because you’re not waiting for someone to give you something to look forward to. Making time for self-care is not only good for you, but it will recharge your batteries so you are more able to be present for your loved ones. The old adage putting your on own oxygen mask before you help those around you is a cliché, but accurate nonetheless. This is particularly relevant for parents, or anyone with dependent family members. Since becoming a mum, it’s been more challenging to fit my self-care in around my son, but I know that if I don’t exercise regularly, eat well and make time for my marriage and my friends, I am less capable of being the mother my son deserves.
Limit social media. This is something I have to work on; I know full well that the idilic little squares only ever show the highlight-reel of our lives, and yet I still fall into a pit of ‘compare and despair’ while scrolling social media – usually late at night when I should have put my phone down hours before. I am aiming to set healthy boundaries around the use of my phone, which applies all year long, but particularly during the winter when my mental health is challenged by circumstances beyond my control. A lot of my work depends on social media, so it’s unrealistic to go off grid altogether, but perusing images of someone else’s Caribbean getaway will not be helpful. Much of mental wellness is dependent of staying grounded in the moment, which can be difficult while distracted by something as unreal and abstract as Instagram. Many of my readers visit this blog after finding me on social media and the irony of this advice is not lost on me. However I still think that it is possible to create balance and only search out helpful content.
Seek help. If you find that January blues leak into February and March, see your GP. You might want to consider therapy too. This advice might sound a little extreme, but once depression and anxiety become entrenched, it can be very difficult to recover. In the past, I was frequently too ashamed to seek out the appropriate help because I thought it was something that I should just be able to manage on own. It invariably took much longer to bounce back because the depressive episode had gone on for too long and dug its claws in. We know from the success of the 12 step programme that people need to help and encouragement of others to get well. You don’t have to suffer poor mental health and if you let it fester it can become debilitating, even dangerous. Ask for help, confide in those you trust and remember you are not alone.