If we follow the traditional flow, January can inflict a gloomy ‘party’s over’ feeling and we are transported back to grim reality. However, life is too short to waste a month in the doldrums. Retreat to the reality of wellbeing and we set the controls for a happier, healthier new year.
So, how to put a smiley face on grumpy January? True, it’s dark and it’s cold but it is also true that when our mood is good, we feel stronger and better able to prevent life’s niggles that might bring us down.
Daylight & exercise
Grab all the outdoor, natural light that you can, keep indoor lighting bright during the day and try to bag a window seat on the bus or train. Bright light during the day and darkness at night helps synchronise our circadian system which regulates alertness, concentration, digestion and sleep. Even a moderate workout pumps up the levels of our main mood-affecting neurochemicals – adrenalin, dopamine, serotonin and endorphins, stimulants, all while that richly oxygenated circulatory boost sharpens the brain and brings a body-warming rosy glow.
Any degree of exercise has a positive effect on all four neurochemicals but, broadly speaking, higher intensity activity stimulates higher adrenaline levels, low to moderate activity tends to create a more significant rise in serotonin, and dopamine levels and endorphin levels rise regardless of the type or intensity of activity. Studies have shown that mood-lifting endorphins can also help to lower blood sugar, reduce food, alcohol and other drug cravings, relieve stress and slow the ageing process. Perhaps the easiest ways to raise your levels are having a good laugh (researchers at the University of Maryland concluded that watching a funny video for just fifteen minutes was enough to gain the benefits) and eating spicy foods. The chemical capsaicin found in most spicy foods delivers a life-enhancing endorphin boost – a sprinkling of red chili flakes on your pasta should do it. Meditation and controlled-breathing exercises, such as Tai Chi, Pilates and Yoga are also believed to trigger endorphin release.
Look forward to something
Having something to look forward to helps us to find cheer through the duller days of the winter. For example, plan a holiday and live the dream – officially known as visualisation, constructive daydreaming puts us in a good mood. Equally, any change of scenery – a weekend away, even a day out – or break from the established routine, can bring fresh perspective and rejuvenate tired spirits. The same applies to trying something new, from simply listening to music outside our comfort zone, to taking up a hobby or joining a club – the thrill of the new exhilarates.
Instead of thinking ‘back to the grind’, we propose a glass-half-full toast to good mood and wellbeing, 365 days a year, including January.
Written by Dr. Noel Duncan