Christmas is over for another year and there’s a lot of ‘New Year, New You’ in the air; gym offers, cookbooks, food delivery services, online coaching and more. This is all well and good and it may indeed work for you, however what companies don’t tell you about is the often inevitable feelings which can make your best January intentions seem like you’re wading through mud; these are more commonly known as ‘January Blues’. Not only is January the coldest month of the year where the majority of us go to work and come home in darkness, more couples separate or divorce in January compared with any other month. Joyful, isn’t it!
Unfortunately my qualifications do not include saving relationships, however what I can do is put together some simple and achievable ways to make January more Wooo and less Blue.
- Vitamin D – The sunshine vitamin! The shorter days and lack of sunlight in winter, particularly if you live in the UK/Ireland, may lead to an insufficiency in vitamin D. Vitamin D is formed in the liver from cholesterol but requires sunlight exposure directly on our skin to activate this process. Vitamin D is important for bone health, immune system regulation and controlling inflammation. Food sources of vitamin D are mostly derived from animal products – oily fish, red meat, liver and egg yolks – however it’s the sunlight on our skin which is the primary source of vitamin D. Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include fatigue, low mood, bone pain and a sluggish immune system. The NHS (the UK’s National Health Service) recommends that patients should consider taking a Vitamin D supplement in autumn and winter (1000 IUs/day) but I would highly recommend that you visit your GP first to get your vitamin D levels checked before taking any supplements. If supplements are appropriate for you, I would recommend a sub-lingual or spray form of Vitamin D as it is typically better absorbed by the body.
- Serotonin – The happy hormone! Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT) is our body’s natural antidepressant. 90% of serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract (the gut – more on this later!) and is a neurotransmitter which is linked to mood, wellbeing, sleep and sex drive. Serotonin is synthesised from tryptophan; an essential amino acid (essential meaning it has to be obtained from the diet). As serotonin is not found directly in foods, it is vital that we obtain enough tryptophan from our diet. Foods rich in tryptophan include beans and legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans etc.), soy products (tofu, tempeh, soybeans), nuts and seeds (particularly pumpkin seeds and walnuts), spirulina (a very green but good for you powder made from algae!), eggs, whole grains (oats, quinoa, brown rice), oily fish, grass fed meat and poultry. Symptoms of low serotonin and/or tryptophan are very similar; low mood, anxiety, fatigue, sleep disturbances and low libido to name a few. It’s important to address any of these symptoms with your GP so please do pay them a visit if this resonates with you.
- Love your gut – As most of the body’s serotonin exists in the gut, it is so important that we look after it. I know, I know, the gut isn’t the sexiest topic to talk about but nutritional therapists can’t get enough of this subject; and there’s a very good reason why! Gut health is linked to so many other functions in the body in addition to digestion; sleep, mental health, skin, hormones, inflammation, immune system health – the list goes on! It’s therefore important that we feed our gut with the nutrients and bacteria it needs to function ‘normally’ (in simple terms, regular and consistent bowel movements with no strong odours!). Probiotics are gut-loving bacteria and it’s a good idea to incorporate probiotic rich foods daily, for example sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, apple cider vinegar (with ‘The Mother’ which is the bacteria rich culture where all the good stuff is). In addition to probiotics, prebiotics are also incredibly important as this is what the probiotic bacteria feed on. Sources of prebiotic foods include onions, leeks, garlic and whole grains. You can also take a probiotic supplement if you feel your gut could use an extra bit of love, however please consult your GP or health professional before taking anything.
- Sleep yourself better – If you managed to have some downtime over Christmas, I’m hoping that you managed to treat yourself to a few lie ins and afternoons naps. It’s the return to work at the beginning of January which can often throw us out of sync: early starts, late finishes and thinking about work more than we really should be. Ideally we should all be aiming for a minimum of eight hours of sleep per night, as it is when we are asleep that a lot of our repair processes kick into action. A regular sleep routine is equally as important – five hours one night, 12 hours the next is not going to do you any favours – therefore try and establish an evening routine to help you drift off with ease (having a bath, reading, avoiding screen time, mediation, lighting a candle etc.). Sleep disturbance is linked to low mood, anxiety, obesity, hormone imbalances and of course fatigue. We are all different but I encourage you to invest the time in yourself to work out what makes you feel your best.
- Move your body – Thanks to Legally Blonde and Elle Woods, many of us know that exercising produces endorphins and endorphins make you happy! Combine this with the importance of getting outside for some (albeit limited) vitamin D, daily movement of some degree is essential for both our mental and physical wellbeing. Whether it’s getting off the tube two stops early and having a brisk walk to work/home, getting on your yoga mat or working up a sweat in your favourite class, prioritise making time for yourself and your own health. The hardest part is putting on your trainers; there is rarely a time where we regret working out but don’t go hell for leather 24/7 and do give yourself a rest day. Top tip: listen to an inspiring podcast whilst exercising and double dose on good vibes!
- Talk it out – It sounds simple but in a world which uses the phrases ‘man up’ and ‘keep calm and carry on’, so often we forget that surrounding yourself with and talking to people who you trust can be the key to turning a sad day into a much better one. Surround yourself with people who boost your energy and feed your soul; if they don’t, consider whether that relationship is really worth your energy or if you need to be seeking further help. Friends, family, a colleague or your GP – talking about how you are feeling is the first (and often most difficult) step to feeling better. Thankfully, mental health is becoming less of a taboo subject thanks to excellent charities such as Mind and Heads Together but it doesn’t mean that mental health conditions are becoming any easier to manage. If you find yourself feeling sad, lonely or lost, the NHS has some excellent services for mental health. It’s OK to ask for help.
- Give yourself a break – New Year, same amazing you. January is traditionally a time where we set multiple and sometimes extravagant resolutions, go on a health kick, give up alcohol and tell ourselves that we’re going to love ourselves more, all at the same time! When you really take a step back and think about it, it’s no wonder that January can leave us feeling overwhelmed; look at what you’re trying to achieve! SLOW DOWN. Focus on loving yourself more, taking time to do things which truly make you happy. If that means a glass of wine or a 10km run (or both!), allow your intuition to guide you. For me that has meant going back to work for 7 days and then physically taking a break; something which I have found incredibly challenging in terms of letting go but here I am, on a coach en route to Val D’Isère, ready to move freely and ski to my heart’s content, breathing in fresh mountain air and spending time with a great group of old (and new) friends.