This is my fourth week back at work after the Christmas holiday and I’m going to be honest here. The commute, the city, the dark mornings and dark evenings – it’s getting to me.
It’s old news that January is one of the toughest months of the year, and also the home of ‘Blue Monday’ – sadly named as the most depressing day.
But combine this with a long journey into work, busy days, a low bank balance, plus cold and drizzly weather (I am in England after all…), it’s no wonder my mood is regularly taking a sharp dive.
I feel like I’m more irritable, noticeably less optimistic, and often, frankly, just plain fed up.
But this week, I decided enough was enough. This week, I chose happy.
So yesterday, I made a few little changes. Swapping my normal overnight oats for a homemade fruit smoothie for breakfast perked me up (apologies to the neighbour if he heard my whirring smoothie machine at 6:30am); drinking more water throughout the day and cutting my caffeine intake made me feel strangely lighter; and deciding to take a walk at lunchtime gave me the break away from my desk I didn’t realise I needed.
But I suppose what also helped, probably more than I realised, was that I felt recharged from the weekend. Although the weather was grey (again), I was in a landscape that made me happy – and even just the sight of the sea through our lounge windows seemed to soothe my soul.
It’s no surprise that I’m not a city girl at heart. I like the opportunity the city brings, and the fact that there’s always something to do, but I find urban areas grind my mood down quickly. Give me a beach and rolling hills any day.
So, while reading The Pool yesterday afternoon, my eyes were drawn to an article about how a walk in nature can make you feel good for hours. It’s nothing new that being outside in the countryside can be a mood booster, (check my old blog post about stepping outside and feeling happier here), but the fact that the effects are that long lasting? Now that’s news.
The study in question was undertaken by King’s College London, focusing on the thought that people who live in cities are three times more likely to become clinically depressed than those living in rural areas. But, a daily boost of nature – whether that’s gazing at a tree by your window, or taking a walk round a park – can lift your mood and well-being, with effects lasting up to seven hours. According to the study, sometimes all it took was a tiny sliver of nature, like a snippet of birdsong, to make a difference. So living in a city isn’t all doom and gloom for your well-being.
And that’s what I think helped me this weekend. On days off, I often sit at the breakfast bar gazing out of the window at the sea on the horizon. During workouts in our spare bedroom, at the other end of the flat, I often take breathers resting my arms on the windowsill and just watching the river. Open water is known to have a calming sensation on the mind and even though I wasn’t out there next to it, I seriously think it made a difference. And for me, the coast is synonymous with feeling happy. I always feel better there.
So with all that in mind, here are some tips for boosting your mood naturally, as learnt by yours truly.
- Seek out nature wherever you can and enjoy it.
Whether that’s a walk round the park, gazing at the ocean, or simply putting a plant by your desk (I did that recently too) use the world around you to reconnect and breathe. Make it your mission to spot nature in the most unlikely of places – even in cracks in the pavement. You’ll be surprised what you’ve looked at, and overlooked, each day when you really stop to notice.
- Use your weekends wisely.
Previously, this made Monday mornings even harder for me. After a fantastic weekend, who wants to go back to work? But try looking at it a different way. You used your time off well and had a great weekend. Nothing was wasted and during that weekend, you were happy. Try to hold on to that feeling – stay productive and positive at work and look ahead to the next moment you have to yourself. Make the most of your personal time and treat it as precious as it is.
- Enjoy some ‘you’ time.
If your moods are really low, spend a bit of time doing something for you. Whether that’s relaxing in the bath, reading, surfing, chatting to a friend, going for a skate – whatever. Just do it and make yourself happy. I spent Sunday night putting conditioning oil on my hair, taking off chipped nail polish and applying a face mask – all things I haven’t done for months. I then sat, curled up next to my boyfriend, with a good book and a glass of wine. I felt pampered and looked after – and happy.
- Start your day differently
Yesterday morning, I swapped my overnight oats for a smoothie. I know – BIG news. It wasn’t a particularly conscious decision (I ran out of the yoghurt I needed for the oats) but I had ingredients for a smoothie so I thought I’d start the week off with something different. Now, it might be psychological, but I swear it helped. I’m a healthy eater anyway – I enjoy eating fruit and veg, and I don’t eat junk food much. But swapping something that had become routine, like my oats, for something a bit different, like a cold fruit smoothie, woke both me and my senses up and set me up invigorated for the day ahead. A bit of variety really is good for the soul.
- Learn to unwind
So, my relaxed, pampering evening on Sunday should have helped me sleep like a baby, right?
Wrong. I couldn’t switch off and my mind was racing about a hundred and one different things. I’ve still no idea why that was. Sometimes I think my mind can’t switch off properly on a Sunday night as it’s anxious about Monday; waking up and snoozing the alarm, what I have in the diary at work … the list goes on. But during weekday evenings, I’ve been working out at home and incorporating some yoga stretches at the end of my routines. And I always feel happier and calmer. So I’m going to change my evening routine and try to do a bit of yoga daily – even if it’s only one or two poses . I’m convinced that the deep breathing and the slow stretches will help me feel more body conscious and train my mind to really unwind.
Got any tips for boosting your mood this January? I’d love to hear them – get in touch!