If you had a couple of days off work between Christmas and New Year’s Day, you might have noticed your usual routine going swiftly out the window. This “Betwixmas” time, as the internet has christened it, is a glorious time. You can enjoy luxurious lie-ins, afternoon movies on the couch, and leftover advent calendar chocolate if you feel so inclined. On the other side of the spectrum, you may have used your time away from the desk to catch up with loved ones, start the spring cleaning, or race through a couple of books to complete your “2021 Reading Challenge” just in the knick of time. Either way, your usual routine is basically non-existent during this time and it can be difficult getting back into the swing of things come January. It’s okay if you feel your mental health dipping a little, we’re here to help.
Here, we have put together some ways to support your mental wellbeing and make the transition into the New Year a smooth one.
1. Routine Is Key to Maintaining Mental Health
First things first, you need to establish a routine. It doesn’t have to be a rigid hour-by-hour time-blocking situation, but something relatively flexible that you can easily follow every day. For instance, you should try and stick to a regular sleep schedule.
Set your alarm for the same time every morning and give yourself plenty of time to have breakfast and prepare for the day ahead. Waking up ten minutes before your morning meeting is a recipe for anxiety and it certainly starts the day off on a rather stressful foot. Give yourself time to fully wake up before you need to dive into “work mode”. If you have a lot on your mind, make a to-do list. Getting tasks out of your head and onto paper can help stop you from feeling overwhelmed. Plus, ticking jobs off as you go along provides a sense of accomplishment.
If you can, try to make time for some light exercise in the morning. If you don’t have time to hit the gym, a brief morning yoga routine will help get the blood pumping, leaving you feeling alert and invigorated. Movement and exercise are wonderful for your mental health, but we’ll come back to that in a while.
Equally important is a bedtime routine. On average, adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night to feel refreshed and well-rested. Of course, this is sometimes easier said than done – especially if you have little ones! If you’re feeling anxious you might also find it difficult to get to sleep or stay asleep through the night. In contrast, if you’re feeling low you might be tempted to hit the snooze button a few times and stay in bed longer. Pick a time that allows you to get a full night’s sleep and stick to it.
If you find it hard to drift off, we suggest allocating some time to wind down before you hop into bed. Pop your phone on silent and put it away to avoid the temptation to check emails or notifications. Some studies have shown that the blue light emitted by phones/ tablets/ laptops/ TVs can delay the release of melatonin (a hormone that makes us feel sleepy) in our bodies. So, if you’re staring at your phone at night, wondering why you’re wide awake, blue light may be the culprit. Swap endless scrolling for a meditation session, a relaxing bath, or read a chapter of your book.
2. Can Fresh Air and Exercise Help Mental Health?
As we mentioned earlier, exercise is great for our mental health. Exercising triggers the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins into our systems. These feel-good chemicals can help regulate and boost our moods, proving to be very helpful in the battle against the January Blues. These neurotransmitters also play a role in regulating our appetite, stress levels, and sleep cycles. Therefore, regular exercise can contribute to both positive mental health and physical health.
Getting out for some fresh air each day also benefits your mental health, especially if you work from home. It can be difficult to switch off “work mode” if you’re simply closing the door to your home office and going straight downstairs to the kitchen to prepare dinner. Try leaving the house for a brisk walk immediately after work to put some distance between you and your workday. This will give you some time to decompress and when you arrive home you will be feeling refreshed and relaxed.
Sunshine and Vitamin D
Anyone familiar with Irish weather will know how common dreary, dull weather is during the winter months. Oftentimes, the sun doesn’t appear until well after our workday has begun and it is dark before we finish in the evenings. This is one of the biggest reasons we feel a dip in our mental health at this time of the year – it’s all down to the lack of sunshine. Let us explain.
When we are exposed to direct sunlight, our bodies produce Vitamin D. We use this vitamin to support our physical and mental health. It helps us maintain bone health and brain function, amongst other things. But when we don’t get enough Vitamin D, we often experience low moods and a lack of energy. So, you’re not just feeling down in the dumps because it’s cold and windy – there’s science behind it. But how do we counteract this?
Luckily for us, there are a couple of ways we can boost our Vitamin D levels without having to book a sun holiday every January. You only need to go as far as your local pharmacy. There, you will find Vitamin D supplements that you can take each day during the winter months. Alternatively, you can alter your diet to include the following Vitamin D-rich foods:
- Oily fish: salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel
- Red meats: especially liver
- Egg yolks
- Fortified foods: cereals and fortified dairy products
3. Don’t Get Bogged Down
Each January, we put immense pressure on ourselves to make major lifestyle changes all in the name of “New Year Resolutions”. Many of us will sign up for rigorous fitness routines or start intensely restrictive diets only to give them up in a matter of weeks. We need to remind ourselves that lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. You need to ease yourself into your new lifestyle to make sure the changes you’re making are sustainable.
For instance, if you want to improve your fitness level but you’re starting completely from scratch, going to the gym 7 days a week may not be doable. Perhaps aim for 3 or 4 times per week and allow yourself some rest days between workouts. This will help prevent injury and burnout. Setting unrealistic goals won’t help your mental health as you’re setting yourself up for failure from the get-go. Be gentle with yourself and take your time – Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Comparison Is the Thief of Joy
This is also a good opportunity to remind ourselves that social media is a highlight reel. We only get a very small glimpse into the lives of the people that we are following. In addition, not many people choose to post about their failures. Don’t let your mental health suffer by comparing yourself to others who seem to be smashing their “New Year, New Me” goals. Comparison truly is the thief of joy, and everyone has a different starting point and resources available to them.
If you find yourself feeling a bit bogged down after scrolling through your socials, you may need to limit your screen time or simply do a spot of online spring cleaning. Go through your “following” list and unfollow or mute anyone that doesn’t inspire or empower you – be ruthless. You can also set time limit reminders for each app in the settings of your phone to help you curb your screen time. Try to avoid putting yourself down with negative self-talk too – try speaking to yourself in the same way you would speak to a beloved friend.
4. Ask for Help
We all need a helping hand sometimes and our mental health is no different. The proverbial saying “a problem shared is a problem halved” certainly rings true in this instance. If something is bothering you to the point where it’s negatively impacting your mental health, it’s worth mentioning to your partner, a friend or a family member. When you’re organising your routine, as outlined above, try to pencil in some social time. Regularly spending time with loved ones will allow you to voice your concerns, and in turn, quell any worries that they might have.
If you are experiencing persistently low moods or high levels of anxiety, you should also speak to a doctor. A medical professional will be able to help you adjust your lifestyle to support your mental health, provide you with useful resources, and prescribe medication if it is needed. Asking for professional help isn’t always easy but speaking to a doctor whilst in the comfort of your own home may make this process easier. Here at Webdoctor, you can book a video consultation with our Irish-based doctors in a matter of minutes. You can learn more about how our video consultations work here too.