January comes at you like a freight train. You can’t stop it or slow it down. Any relaxation you felt during Christmas is well and truly over. It’s a new year and you’re expected, at least according to people in advertising, to totally reinvent yourself.
If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed here are some little tricks to keep you afloat.
Mute anything about starting a new diet
Come January food is stripped off of its warm winter coat. Our meals are no longer hearty or comforting. We get told we need to cut back and stop indulging. Every time I see an ad on TV someone seems to be telling me: “Come on fatty! Put down that cheese and get these chia seeds down you STAT.”
The only way you can shut out those voices is to turn them off. Unfollow exercise and nutrition accounts if they’re only talking about weight loss. Mute people on Twitter who bang on about their Christmas bellies and walk away when people start discussing how much weight they need to lose to get back to their pre-Christmas bodies.
Keep track of things that actually make you happy
People talk a lot about “self-care”. It seems a bit wishy-washy at times but it’s extremely important. Self-care doesn’t mean skipping work and listening to Marvin Gaye in the bathtub (though it can if you’d like it to!)
Self-care is about little achievable actions you can do to relax and reach emotional stability. It might be meditating or asking a friend to come round or going to a counsellor. The only way to know what your self-care action plan should be is to use trial and error.
I read somewhere that doodling is relaxing for some people and I thought: “No way. I can’t even draw a stick man”. I tried it for an evening whilst re-watching Parks and Recreation and loved it. I doodled little swirly clouds and trees and aeroplanes and coloured them in. I’d never show anyone. They showcased the artistic prowess of an infant but it didn’t matter. It relaxed me and allowed me to forget about the day’s stress.
Keep your safe space safe
My bed is my favourite place because I get to lie down and sleep. Who doesn’t love sleep? Problem is, I spent most of my life not just sleeping in bed but studying, writing and eating in it. I didn’t have any kind of calming ritual for getting into bed because most often I was already in it.
As a result my bed would be filled with breadcrumbs, Doritos dust, dirty washing, ketchup stains and finished books. It wasn’t clean and it definitely wasn’t a nice place to go to sleep in.
When I recently moved again I decided I needed to make my bed more sacred. I found a cheap second hand desk that had questionable graffiti from when it belonged to a teenage boy but it meant I had somewhere to sit and do my writing. I’d eat in the living room and make sure my dirty washing hand a basket to go to.
I also try and remember to make my bed whenever I can. The act of making it makes me feel like I have some kind of control over my day. I’m starting out productive, maybe the rest of the day will follow suit?
Write it all out
Keeping a diary can feel a bit cringe to me. Am I reverting back to my teenage years? Am I being self-indulgent? Who am I writing this to? What if someone reads this?
Since using a diary in a more systematic way with to-do lists, mood trackers and scrapbooking I’ve found ways to prioritise problems and worries and identify things that have been upsetting me.
The act of journaling, creating lines and squares and places for me to add activities and thoughts establishes a sense of order when the world seems to be spinning out. Taking the time to fill in my notebook means I’m taking a moment for myself and I’m tuning into my mind and body.
Don’t feel bad if you turn the news off
Wanting to stay up to date with everything that’s going on in the world means I rarely get a time off from terrorism, war, famine and terrible presidents. Being overloaded with disaster doesn’t help anyone, let alone myself. My own problems and the world’s problems collide and I’m not just worrying about the lingering headache I suspect might be more serious, I’m also worried about nuclear bombs and rising sea levels and am I sure there’s any point in leaving the house today because there’s definitely going to be another attack.
If you’re like me, take a break from the news. Disconnect. Let your mind focus on something else and when you’re ready to engage go back and try and find ways you can help. Become an activist and volunteer for a relevant charity. In short: try and turn your fears into something proactive.
Don’t feel guilty for indulging yourself
Every now and again do something for yourself that is ridiculously luxurious. Take yourself on a date, buy a bath bomb that costs more than your lunch, get a super fancy coffee, go to the cinema and get an XL tub of popcorn, buy yourself a slice of cake from that chic bakery. Treat yourself like a date you really want to impress. Give yourself the time and space to do something purely for you.
Assemble a support team
Figure out which people in your life are there for you when things get rough. The type of people who aren’t just there when you’re in the pub or celebrating good news, but people you can call when you haven’t left the house in three days.
Don’t feel shame if you don’t think you have these people, you can find them online, you can find them on helplines or in support groups. Have an action plan ready in case things get tricky for you. Don’t let yourself feel like you have no one fighting in your corner.
Develop a place to re-group
We’ve already established your bed is a sanctuary but try and assemble another place; it can be outside of your home, where you can go to collect your thoughts. There’s a park bench in Bristol with an amazing view over the city I used to go to whether I was happy, sad or just needed to mull something over. Similarly after therapy I find a quiet little back street in Shoreditch and have a cigarette to think about some of the things we discussed in our session. It’s just for five or ten minutes but after that I’m ready to go back in and join the stream of people on the tube.
Look after plants
Having a load of plants in your room is surprisingly good for your mood. It gives your home a connection to the outside world, reminding you that there’s more outside of your living space. Taking care of your plants also gives you something to focus on, a thing to do when you get up. And on the plus side plants can transform a boring room into an urban jungle.
The next step on from owning plants is to actually get out there. Go for walks; find the greenest spots in your city, expansive parks and forests. Get a bike and go exploring. Your stress levels will decrease and the activity will boost your mood.
After reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild I had to initially calm down and not buy a ticket to America to do the pacific crest trail. Instead I started walking around the UK: first Hastings then Eastbourne and I’m working my way up to the Peak District and Snowdonia. Walks get me out of my routine. I don’t even listen to music when I walk. I’m just there with my own thoughts and sometimes they’re actually alright company.
Remember it’s OK to not be totally OK
Despite all your great intensions you might find that sooner than you’d hoped things aren’t going so great. All the ambitions and plans you had this year suddenly seem hard to reach.
Don’t be disheartened, just because you feel sad or shitty or frustrated doesn’t mean you’re undoing all your great work. It’s OK to not be OK. You don’t have to resolve everything straight away. Ride things out and accept things the way they are even if they’re not the way you want them to be.