I’m not sure how others feel this time of year but personally I find it a huge challenge. The buzz of the holiday season is long gone, most of my family and friends are miles away and the hours of daylight are scarce. No matter where I have lived, warm or cold, I have always struggled to re-motivate myself in January and February. This is especially true as I feel like I am supposed to start the new year with a laundry list of resolutions that will make me a better, more productive, more successful version of myself. However, while I suspect that I will always find this time of year somewhat difficult, I have developed (and borrowed) some strategies to help me remain healthier, both mentally and physically, throughout the winter months, none of which include New Year’s resolutions.
The most important place for me to start is maintaining my mental health, although there is always a deep connection between my mental and physical well-being. It took me a long time to realise this but the most important thing is to start the day on a positive note, particularly when I get up and it’s still dark out. How do I do that? Meditation – scary, I know. After spending years trying off and on to perfect the art of meditation and feeling like a failure, my breakthrough finally came when I began using Deepak Chopra’s meditations. Through his work, I realised that the key for me is to breathe (you can ask my husband – it is much harder for me to stop and breathe than one might think!) and to create a sense of mental stillness, even it if is for five to 10 minutes at the beginning of the day. It works wonders, honestly.
Other ways that I boost my mental health? I love doing little things like popping into an art gallery even for five minutes (my parents are both artists so it makes me feel like I am tapping into my roots), giving myself a pedicure, or doing something from the Happy New Year Calendar put out by Action for Happiness (www.actionforhappiness.org). My litmus test is that whatever I do, it should leave me feeling a bit lighter and cheerier after I do it.
I have also realised that in living away from most of my family and friends, I really need to make an effort to keep connections in my life and to create a sense of community. Admittedly, this entails lots of calls and online chats with friends and family around the world (thank you Internet!), even if it is only a 30 second chat on Facebook Messenger. I love the warm and cosy feeling of knowing that I have a global network out there that I support and that supports me. I also have learned to take time to connect with my local community – be it volunteering at my local Parkrun, chatting with the vendors at my local urban farm, or visiting my favourite café in Les Gets for the local gossip. It never ceases to amaze me how feeling connected gives me a huge mental boost.
And on the physical side of things? Although there tends to be a lot of hype this time of year around losing weight gained over the festive season, I find that going on a diet makes me feel even gloomier – like I am depriving myself of something. Instead, I try to focus on nutrition – less red meat, more fruits and vegetables, as well a lovely bit of chocolate here and there, of course. I might not lose those extra pounds, but I inevitably feel lighter by eating a healthier diet. I also try to make sure I get plenty of physical exercise, even if it is just walking and cycling around town, as well as getting in the occasional swim. While it can be difficult prying myself off the couch when the weather is poor, I always feel more positive after a bit of exercise. This is particularly true the older I get. I also find planning a little trip and getting out of London, when I have the resources to do so, to be hugely beneficial.
On a final note, I encourage people to come up with a plan of action before the post-holiday blues set in. It is much easier to be creative when you are still feeling buoyant. And remember, it tends to be the little things we do at this time of year that create the big shifts in how we feel.