Blue Monday? Don’t panic!
Blue Monday is simply an invitation to improve your ‘emotional hygiene’, says Psychologies editor Suzy Greaves. Here she gives her 5 favourite scientifically proven daily habits to boost your psychological health.
Blue Monday? It falls on the third Monday of the month of January and according to research is the most miserable day of the year. Yes, there’s no doubt that the dark days can feel a tad grim. But I believe we can use this day as an opportunity to practice and become more aware of the tools available to improve our emotional hygiene. What’s that? I’ve pinched the phrase from one of my favourite TEDx talks by Ted Winch. He defines emotional hygiene as being mindful of our psychological health and adopting brief daily habits to monitor and address psychological health.
“In much the same way that dental hygiene involves brushing our teeth and flossing every day, and personal hygiene involves cleaning ourselves and taking care of physical injuries when we sustain them, emotional hygiene is doing the same for our emotional health. Currently, our general neglect of our emotional hygiene is profound. How is it we spend more time each day taking care of our teeth than our minds? We brush and floss but what daily activity do we do to maintain our psychological health” he says.
A brilliant point. Why not use Blue Monday as a great opportunity to assess your daily habits and daily activity and to ask yourself – is this boosting or draining my emotional health? Here are my 5 favourite habits that helps me maintain my emotional hygiene:
1. Stop thinking about myself and asking how I can I be kinder?
I know I’m feeling blue when I find myself ruminating and focussing on what is wrong with my life and getting a tad self-obsessed. Rumination has been shown to be a precursor to depression as you repeat distressing scenes and feelings over and over again. Research has shown that, when it comes to rumination, simply trying not to think about the negative scenes that you’re obsessing about doesn’t work – you need a plan. For example, to write a list of situations in which you ruminate the most and, for each, list short and long distractions, for example, a game of sudoku, watching a movie or going for a walk.
For me, the best rumination antidote is asking – how can I help someone else? By being kind, I take the focus of my own ‘misery’ and benefit from what researchers call the ‘helper’s high’. A study showed that when people were asked to conduct five new acts of kindness one day a week over a six-week period (even if each act was small), they experienced a big increase in wellbeing. For me, I might send an email to a friend, asking how they are, I will let someone in at the traffic or when I’m talking or meeting someone new, I quietly focus on the positive qualities of this person and tell them what I appreciate about them (hopefully without being creepy). What five kind things can you do today?
2. Walk your dog (or just get out and move your body every day)
I’m a huge fan of walking Oscar the Psychologies office dog. Both Oscar and I are both delighted to join the R.E.D (Run Every Day) campaign this month, a campaign started by our wonderful new columnist Hannah Beecham. It centres around the one month challenge to run, walk or swim – whatever you fancy – each day, every day, but the focus is not only on improving our fitness but changing the way we feel. Research show that regular exercise can decrease the risk of depression by 30 per cent. Hannah’s campaign is in partnership with MIND and has so far raised more than £200,000 for charity. So not only will you be boosting your feel good hormones by exercising but you’ll also be helping people too (see point one)
3. Light up your life!
Whether walking the dog or running every day (or in my case walking really, really fast), I make sure I get outside into the light at least once a day. Latest statistics show that 24% of us experience the winter blues and 7% within that group suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which can be disabling to the point where you struggle to function normally. SAD is caused by the lack of bright light in winter; daybreak light is the signal for the pineal gland to stop producing the sleep hormone melatonin but, in winter, the light level is insufficient to trigger this process. Getting out and about first thing in the morning and at lunchtime can help. But I’m also a great fan of my Lumie lamp, - the Bodyclock dawn simulator – an alarm that wakes me up with increasing levels of light. (It was the world’s first wake-up light and brought light therapy into the mainstream.) At the moment, I'm experimenting with the brand new Vitamin L, which provides a slimline light therapy solution that you can stick on your desk. It stimulates a UV-free sunlight to improve mood, energy and focus. Brilliant!
4. Arrange to meet your friends today
One of the most powerful things you can do today is to work on building your relationship with friends and loved ones. There is a ton of research that shows that people with strong and broad social relationships are happier, healthier and live longer. Close relationships with family and friends provide love, meaning, support, and increase our feelings of self-worth. Broader networks bring a sense of belonging. So taking action today to strengthen our relationships and build connections is one of the most powerful ways to boost your emotional hygiene.
(Unbelievably, not having close personal ties actually poses the same level of health risk as smoking or obesity.) So today, book a time to talk to the people you love. Be curious, ask lots of questions about what’s going on in their lives at the moment. Make an effort to really try to understand their thoughts, feelings, attitudes and past history. And share yours with them. And why not send an email while you’re at it and book one activity to do this month with friends – be it a hike together, a bike ride or a grand day out?
5. Know yourself: Do you even know what makes you happy?
At Psychologies, we believe that self awareness is key to creating a life where you can flourish. Whether it’s therapy, coaching or just writing in a journal, knowing what motivates you and makes you tick is an important part of the jigsaw. As a starting point today, try 5 of our psychological tests to discover what makes you happy, how resilient you are and look at how you can start championing yourself versus criticising yourself.