Time to have fun!

There’s a very simple but very brilliant piece of art by a talented man called Mr Bingo that I often think about. It’s a 14cm-high gravestone with the words “Don’t forget to have fun” engraved into it. It’s the perfect alternative to your aunt’s “Live Laugh Love” cushions and I absolutely adore it.

His is one of the few accounts on Instagram,  that actually makes scrolling enjoyable. Fun for the sake of fun. He is also beautifully cynical about life, which is also my default when I’m not wearing my cheery yoga hat. It’s important to have different hats, by the way. But that’s for another post.

There has been a bit of friend sadness that I’ve been dealing with the past few weeks, and it made me think, maybe I should write a post that we can all go back to when things get bleak and it will remind us all to find the fun when we can.

Or maybe at least to find some time in the darkness when we really need it. I know it’s hard to find at the moment, though. Right now, the world is metaphorically, politically and literally on fire, so when you find some fun, grab on to it, dear. Grab on to it with all your might.

Apply this to a friendship, a relationship, a job, whatever. You are allowed to laugh way more than you are, even when things are hard. Have you, in all the sadness and madness of the past few years, forgotten the fun?

Call up your friend and plan a long overdue night out. Do something spontaneous with your partner. (This can be as cringeworthy and silly as you wish!)  Single out the not-awful people you work with and spend a bit of time with them out of the office. There might be a brilliant new friend waiting for you.

Prioritising fun once in a while should not leave you feeling guilty.It gives you the energy to carry on going when things feel hard. Grant yourself permission to have a break from it all. And please attend to your own fun first before helping others with theirs…because you’re important too!

We’re all going on a summer holiday!

After the chaos and uncertainty of the last couple of years, it’s hardly surprising that so many of us feel in need of a break.

Whether you’re feeling stressed, need an escape from the news cycle or are struggling to juggle all your responsibilities, the chance to spend a week relaxing on the beach or exploring an unfamiliar city is just what the doctor ordered.

The only problem? As much as you might feel in need of a break, switching off might not prove as easy as you expect it to be – especially if you’re used to being busy all the time.

Being in a relaxing environment certainly helps, but if your mind is still preoccupied with a million and one things, it can be hard to reap the benefits of spending time away.

Of course, the last thing you want is to feel wired the whole time you’re on holiday. Everyone deserves the chance to relax, unwind and enjoy some time away from the buzz of everyday life – and that’s where this article comes in.

To give you the tools you need to enjoy a restorative holiday this summer,  psychotherapist Laura Duester shares her top tips for switching off. Here’s what she had to say.

Switch off work messages

As tempting as it may be to check in on work while you’re away, doing so will only add to your stress levels and make it harder for you to relax in the long run.

“It’s impossible to relax on holiday if you’re constantly checking and responding to work messages,” Duester explains. “Before leaving, hand over important issues to your colleagues, set a holiday voicemail and email autoreply (including your return to work date), and inform any important contacts or clients. You can then turn off your notifications and leave your work laptop and phone at home.

“Alternatively, if you can’t completely switch off from work while you’re away, plan to log in once a day at a set time, limit how long you spend checking messages and only reply to the most urgent/pressing issues.”

Decide your holiday priorities

To remove any holiday-related stress, Duester recommends setting some priorities for your trip before you leave, so you know exactly what you want to see, do and experience.

“What’s the priority for your holiday – do you want relaxation, family time, sightseeing, sporting activities or something else?” Duester says.

“There’s never enough time to do everything, so work out what’s most important to you and prioritise that. It might help to imagine how you’ll feel when the holiday is over – what will you want to remember that you’ve done and enjoyed?”

Put your worries on hold

If you’re someone who struggles to put their worries aside, this simple technique is a great way to give yourself space to unwind.

“Even when you’re on a sunny beach or exploring a new town, real-life worries can pop into your head and be hard to ignore,” Duester says. “Try writing down anything that’s bothering you and then mentally put your concern(s) on hold.

“If the same thoughts pop up repeatedly, gently acknowledge them and let them go, telling yourself you’ll have a chance to worry about them later. You can return to your list of worries, and decide on what actions you need to take, when you get home.”

Let go of unrealistic expectations

The process of going on holiday can be stressful and it’s likely you’ll run into a few roadblocks along the way. However, the way you think about these issues can make a world of difference to your ability to relax.

“From flight delays to forgetting your hairbrush, there will always be things that go wrong on holiday,” Duester says. “While this can be frustrating when you’ve spent a lot of money and want everything to be perfect, the best strategy is to accept and manage any problems as they arise.

“Let go of stress and expectations, take a deep breath, see if you can find a different solution and try to find the funny side (if possible).”

Ditch the guilt

Our fast-paced lifestyles have made us feel guilty about taking time off – but don’t let that feeling stand in the way of giving yourself the break you deserve.

“In today’s fast-paced society, slowing down and enjoying yourself can provoke serious feelings of guilt,” Duester explains. “Remind yourself that it’s your holiday and you’re allowed to take a break. If you want to ignore social media, have a siesta every day or read Mills & Boon novels, give yourself permission and enjoy it!”

The body keeps the score

A while ago, I read a fascinating book ‘The body Keeps the Score’ by Bessel Van der Kolk. The title underscores the book’s central idea: Exposure to stress or trauma fosters the development of a hyperactive alarm system and molds a body that gets stuck in fight/flight, and freeze. Trauma interferes with the brain circuits that involve focusing, flexibility, and being able to stay in emotional control. A constant sense of danger and helplessness promotes the continuous secretion of stress hormones, which wreaks havoc with the immune system and the functioning of the body’s organs. When someone who has experienced either of these emotions feels safe; to inhabit their bodies; to tolerate feeling what they feel, and knowing what they know, they begin to heal. This may involve a range of interventions (one size never fits all), including various forms of therapy including meditation and yoga.

Holistic chiropractor Dr Bradley Nelson claims in his book ‘The Emotion Code’ that emotionally charged events from our past can haunt us years down the track. He believes that these ‘trapped emotions’ can create physical aches and pains in the body. Norwich-based health kinesiologist Monique Thapar explains that the body can store positive and negative energy from our day-to-day experiences, which can lead to us feeling physically and mentally well – or not. “Using indicator muscle testing as a communication tool, we can allow the body to guide us on where and how to release tightness at a cellular and tissue level,” Thapar claims.

“While we may have a very good idea consciously where there is an issue, things like muscle memory helps to guide us on a subconscious level where there may be concerns.”

There is a school of thought among some yoga teachers that some yoga postures and sequences can help to release stored emotions. These yoga teachers refer to tight hips, jaws, shoulders and the neck as potentially being an indicator of not only stress but also trapped emotions. 

While we can easily blame the tension in our bodies on activities such as sitting at a desk, scrolling through our mobile phones and driving, sometimes it feels as though the tension comes from carrying the weight of the world.

If we think about how we can feel guarded when experiencing difficult emotions, it makes sense that we contract different parts of the body to protect ourselves from being hurt further. According to yoga teacher Jay Johal Davies, it is these constant contractions that can cause the body to store emotions. 

 Research suggests that our emotions are electrochemical signals that carry messages throughout the body and are then either expressed, experienced or stored in the body and mind, where they can influence the cells in our bodies,” Davies tells Stylist.

 “The symptoms of traumatic stress, for example, can manifest physically because the brain associates an area of the body with a particular memory – often on a subconscious level.

THE HIPS AND BACK ARE THE KEY AREAS FOR PENT-UP EMOTION

Take the backbend, for example. The movement is counter-intuitive to our typical posture of sitting forward when typing, texting or driving. In yoga, backbends are often referred to as “heart openers” – an apt name when we consider that emotions may have remained dormant around our hearts simply because of our lifestyle choices. The same can be said of hip-opening postures that move the hip in a range of motions that far exceed those of simply sitting.

After 45 minutes of bending, stretching, tightening and tensing muscles in new ways, it’s unsurprising when we come to relax that our emotions are more likely to show up. For yogis, this is usually during savasan at the end of the class. 

You might feel nothing. Or you could start crying, feel angry or experience the urge to laugh. The workout lowers our guard and we become both physically and emotionally vulnerable. This doesn’t just occur in yoga, of course; whenever we are deeply immersed in doing physical activity (such as running, for example), we might feel intense emotion.

THE POWER OF YOGA IN RELEASING EMOTIONS

“Yoga offers time and space to reconnect with our bodies; moments where participants pause throughout the class to set intentions – to feel, think and reflect,” Davies adds. 

 “Students are encouraged to not only bring their bodies to their mats but their mind and hearts also; to pay attention to feelings in the body and mind, labelling these and then reflecting on them afterwards.” 

Breathwork should also be considered,” Thapar contributes, “as when you breathe into those areas of tightness and tension, that’s really powerful and can involve an emotional release and shifts in energy.”

 Additionally, yoga offers its participants a sense of community whereby the activity isn’t focused on competition but on being in unity with others and the self. This environment provides a feeling of safety that can be conducive to emotions being easily expressed.

“Yoga offers time and space to reconnect with our bodies; moments where participants pause throughout the class to set intentions – to feel, think and reflect,” Davies concludes. 

 “Students are encouraged to not only bring their bodies to their mats but their mind and hearts also; to pay attention to feelings in the body and mind, labelling these and then reflecting on them afterwards.” 

 

 

Mental Health Awareness Week 2022

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and this year the Mental Health Foundation’s focus is on loneliness – raising awareness of just how many of us are affected by it, the impact it can have on our mental health and, importantly, what we can do about it.

We have perhaps never needed to focus on connection more than now. A survey highlighted by the National Academy for Social Prescribing found that while the majority of people interviewed said it is important for their mental health to feel connected to their community, more than half said they are now taking part in fewer social activities than they did before the pandemic.

We can all admit to having felt lonely at some point. What can trigger it? It may be external influences such as a relationship breakdown, bereavement, dysfunctional friendship, moving location or a change in role personally or professionally.

But there is also an internal aspect to loneliness that we don’t speak about much: not spending time understanding who we are, not living a life aligned to our own unique self, ignoring our need for time on our own and for space to get to know ourselves.

And this is because loneliness is not always the same as being alone. Loneliness is the feeling you get when you don’t feel connected – to others, to yourself, to the world. When you don’t feel heard, valued, listened to or seen, or when you don’t recognise any part of yourself within others, when you feel no one cares about or understands you.

Why does loneliness cause us so much hurt? Ultimately, because our need for connection is innate in us. Way before the pandemic, the statistics about how many of us felt lonely were staggering, and the ripples are still being felt. What we have to ensure is that the conversation that started getting more prominence around loneliness during the pandemic not only continues, but actually gets acted upon – through connection.

Find out more using the link below:

https://mentalhealth-uk.org/get-involved/mental-health-awareness-days/mental-health-awareness-week/

How to breathe better!

Taking a deep breath is meant to be a catch-all cure for a multitude of ills.

Feeling stressed, angry, upset, tired, nauseous? Take a deep breath. It will help.

Breathing keeps us alive. We breathe in and out about 22,000 times a day, and we do it without thinking. But what happens when our breath rhythm is off? And how can you tell if you’re doing it wrong?

Experts believe that measuring our breath rate could be more important for our fitness, concentration, stress and even life expectancy, than tracking heart rate or steps. But research by smart wearables brand Amazfit shows that 68% of us do not know what a healthy breath rate range is – or how to monitor and control it.

So, how does breathing actually work? Understanding the mechanism is key to improving our technique.

The process of respiration provides the body with oxygen and removes carbon dioxide as a waste product, and the number of breaths we take per minute can be a marker of how healthy we are.

Breathing too quickly could contribute to problems including high blood pressure, stress and anxiety, while too slowly could indicate problems such as sleep apnoea or depression, due to the lack of oxygen and higher levels of carbon dioxide in the body.

Breath rate is also increasingly important this winter as breathlessness is noted as the second most common symptom for those suffering from Covid and Long Covid, according to the Office of National Statistics.

Scientists at the University of Rome found that measuring breath rate is ‘superior’ to tracking other vital health statistics, including pulse, but this metric is often overlooked.

Another study published in the European Heart Journal found breath rate was linked with heart attack mortality for those at high-risk. Heart and circulatory diseases cause a quarter of all deaths in the UK, according to the British Heart Foundation.

Even those who are fit can optimise their physical performance and concentration by monitoring – and responding to – their breath rate. Studies show that slow-breathing exercises can help alleviate symptoms of depression, as well as reduction in blood pressure for patients with hypertension.

Meanwhile, current research at the University of Sheffield is underway to monitor more than a hundred people who have had Covid symptoms, including monitoring patterns with their breath rate.

‘We know breath rate is an extremely useful measurement in a hospital setting, but until now we haven’t been able to measure it in a home environment,’ says Professor Allan Lawrie, from University of Sheffield.

‘We aim to track over a hundred individuals to remotely monitor changes in their breath rate in combination with heart rate and activity to find out what we can learn about current and future cardiovascular and respiratory health.’

Dr Punam Krishan, an NHS GP with a special interest in lifestyle medicine, adds: ‘Life gets busy and taking time out to pause can often seem impossible. Learning to breathe effectively can become a powerful and effective tool that can be used anytime and anywhere to help restore calm, focus and clarity.’

Two simple breathing exercises to try

The anti-ager: Waterfall

‘Our metabolism produces toxic by-products, including carbon dioxide and other free radicals, and unless these are cleared, they can age our body. The key to this breath is a neurotransmitter called nitric oxide. When we breathe through our nose, the nitric oxide it creates has proven to take pressure off our heart, dilate blood vessels and even promote healthier chromosome lifespan.’

How to:

  1. Breathing only through your nose, bounce up and down on both feet for one minute.
  2. Coming back to standing, fold your upper body towards the floor (or as far down as you can). Let your head, neck, shoulders and arms hang loose.
  3. While in this position, breathe towards your tailbone. This fires up the diaphragm (our most efficient breathing muscle).
  4. After about thirty seconds of breathing upside down, slowly come back upright. Place hands on your lower belly and, still breathing through your nose, breathe gently and fully towards your palms. Practice letting your belly expand on inhalation and relax on exhalation. Breathe this way for five minutes.

Sleep-booster: Rising Tide Breath

‘This works by soothing our internal fight and flight mechanism and replacing it with what our body needs to rest and digest. What sets this technique apart is how it stimulates the yawn reflex, which helps prepare our body to make the change in state from active to sleepy.’

How to:

  1. Shut your eyes and take a breath deep into your lower belly. Hold your breath and contract every muscle in your body for as long as you can.
  2. Exhale and relax. Repeat this breath-holding-contraction two to three times or until your muscles begin to soften.
  3. Let the next inhale be slower than the one before. Filling from your lower body up to the collarbones, feel it stretch every part of your lower torso before expanding each rib in turn. As this wave-like sensation meets your collarbones, imagine the inhale to continue upwards. Placed currently, your soft palate will feel to broaden (like a yawn).
  4. Pausing at your inhale’s peak, once again, squeeze your entire body. Use the exhale to shed yet more tension. Continue breathing this way for ten minutes.

Five tips to control and improve your breath rate

To help you put all of this advice into practice, Dr Punam has shared her top tips to help you breathe better:

Become aware of your breathing

‘Often we breathe fast and shallow, which isn’t effective, so it’s important to become conscious of how you breathe,’ says Dr Punam.

‘Practice breathing deeply by taking deep breaths in through your nose with one hand on your chest and the other on your belly, feeling both hands rise and fall as you breathe out through your mouth.’

Dr Punam says this deeper breathing will ensure better airflow and more oxygen into the body.

‘If you’re using a wearable device, you’ll notice your pulse and heartbeat instantly slow as your stress levels reduce,’ she says.

Use pursed lips to breathe

‘Pursing your lips when you’re short of breath can help you relax, and slows the pace of your breathing by using less energy,’ says Dr Punam.

Comparison is the thief of joy

A new student came to class recently. Like so many newbies to the mat, she was anxious about not being able to keep up with the class; not being flexible enough but first and foremost in her mind was the fear she’d look foolish. I get it. I’ve been there too and I often fear that as I”m a yoga teacher, I’m being judged even MORE critically! No matter how experienced a yogi you are, it never does any harm to remind ourselves that…

1) No Two Yogis Are Alike

What’s your favorite yoga pose? I’m willing to bet that if you surveyed the group of yogis that practice alongside you, each person would have a different response. For example, while some people’s favorite time during their yoga practice is savasana, I find this to be one of the most challenging poses in my practice because I tend to have a difficult time clearing my head. You are different from everyone else in your class: your body is different, your level of experience is different, and your strengths and weaknesses are different. The things that make you unique make you as a yogi completely incomparable to any other yogi.

2) Your Practice Is Entirely Your Own

Why do you do yoga? For some people it is for fitness, for some it’s for relaxation, and for others it may be spiritual. We all have our own reasons for doing yoga and our journeys have all been uniquely different. Allowing yourself to compare where you are on your journey with those around you requires you to assume things about your fellow yogis that you just don’t know. Such comparison is unfair to yourself and unfair to those around you. Allow yourself to embrace where you are on your yoga journey, with the knowledge that your mat is there just for you.

3) Your Fellow Yogis Can Add To Your Practice

I would by lying if I told you that I never let my eyes drift to those around me during yoga class. Especially during challenging poses, I sometimes like to see how others are making the poses their own. But an important lesson that I’ve learned during my yoga journey is that those around you can inspire, rather than detract from your practice. When I see my fellow yogis courageously take on poses that I’m not quite up for yet, I feel encouragement to continue in my practice and to challenge myself to meet new personal goals.

4) Comparison Can Steal Your Focus

Theodore Roosevelt spoke one of my favorite quotes, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Nowhere have I found this more applicable than in my yoga practice. Being able to take time for myself to practice yoga brings a great deal of happiness and balance to my life and I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity and physical ability to practice. Comparing yourself to those around you and competing with your fellow yogis can take away from the reasons you enjoy yoga and can shift your focus in a way that detracts from your practice. Keep your focus inward – where are your own thoughts today? What do your muscles feel like? Have you been listening to your body? If you’re focused on comparing yourself to those around you, you’re stealing from yourself some of the benefits that yoga can bring you. For that short amount of time – bask in the joy that yoga brings you as an individual.

5) You’re Part Of A Community

Competition involves rivalry. It involves trying to push past others and of course, to win. Throughout my yoga journey, I have never once felt that I was practicing alongside a rival. In fact, even when I’m in a room full of strangers practicing yoga, I always feel as if I’m amongst friends. One of my favorite things to do when I’m traveling is to drop-in on a yoga class at a local studio. It’s always a wonderful experience and I’ve never once felt like the “new kid” or an “outsider.” Yogis make up an incredibly diverse and welcoming community, one where competition would simply be out of place, and I feel honored to be a part of it.

6) There Is No Finish Line

There is no “perfect” in yoga. There’s no getting to the “end” of your practice. There are always ways to continue to grow and continue to learn. Therefore, I’ve come to understand that there is no need to compare where I am in my practice to where others are. There’s no rush – yoga is not a race. This ever-changing journey always has something more to give us, and I look forward to practicing alongside each of you as we continue.

Oh, happy days.

Happiness is accessible to us all. But in these uncertain times, it is easy to forget how to find joy in our lives. As Vanessa King, of Action for Happiness and author of 10 Keys to Happier Living, explains: “As a species, we don’t like uncertainty – having a sense of control in our lives is a core psychological need.”

However, she adds: “Being happy isn’t about bouncing around on cloud nine all of the time. It’s about looking out for things that give us a sense of meaning, purpose and connection, and finding little moments of happiness every day.”

To help us all feel a little happier, here are King’s 10 top tips…

In a world where you can be anything, be kind

by Dr Elaine Beaumont

(lecturer, psychotherapist and co-author of The Kindness Workbook)

Elaine explores the meaning of ‘acts of kindness’, using extracts from the book which was co-written with Mary Welford.

If you look up the word ‘kindness’ you’ll probably find something along the lines of: ‘the quality or act of being helpful, caring, considerate, generous, gentle and thoughtful’. So, kindness is:

  • Caring for ourselves and other people
  • Doing things that are helpful and improve the wellbeing of ourselves and others
  • Being considerate of our own needs and the needs of other people
  • Being gentle, patient and tolerant of ourselves and others

It’s common for us to show more kindness to others and receive more kindness from others, than show kindness to ourselves. However, learning to be kind to ourselves, although difficult at times, can boost wellbeing. If you’re kind to yourself (and therefore less critical) you’re likely to:

  • Feel more confident
  • Do the things you’ve always wanted to do
  • Be more assertive and stick up for what you believe in
  • Challenge yourself
  • Learn from your mistakes (rather than avoid making them)
  • Take part in activities you once enjoyed (or new activities you want to try)
  • Experience less anxiety, low mood and/or frustration

The popular legend of the Two Wolves is a nice example that demonstrates how we all have internal battles going on inside us. The good news is that you can learn to feed the kind, compassionate, generous you.

The Two Wolves

One evening a grandfather was teaching his young grandchildren about the internal battles each one of us faces. ‘There are two wolves fighting inside each of us,’ he said. ‘One wolf is vengeful, angry, resentful, self-pitying and scared . . . the other wolf is compassionate, joyful, generous, kind, faithful, hopeful and caring . . .’ The children thought about this for a moment or so and one asked: ‘Which wolf wins, Grandfather?’

The grandfather smiled a knowing smile and replied, ‘The one you feed.’

Covid-19 and being kind

One thing that has stood out to many of us during the pandemic is how much kindness and compassion has made a difference.  Captain Sir Tom Moore and Marcus Rashford really helped lift the nation’s spirits and had a positive impact on many people’s lives. Even small acts of kindness can boost people’s mood. For example, a neighbour of mine put notes through letter boxes offering to help people with their grocery shopping. A small gesture (in comparison to the achievements of the likes of Marcus Rashford), but nonetheless ‘kindness in action’.

17th February 2022 is Random Acts of Kindness Day – can you think of an act of kindness you can do for yourself or for somebody else? Can you look in the mirror and say something kind to yourself or remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can right now? Can you compliment a stranger, a neighbour or someone you care about? Being kind to others also make us feel good too.

Acts of Kindness

Here are a few examples of how we can show ourselves and other people kindness.

Small Acts of Kindness
 

€      Ask a friend how they are doing

€      Cook a healthy meal for yourself

€      Smile and say hello to somebody

€      Be mindful of how much sleep you need

€      Make a card for yourself or somebody else

€      Send a nice text message to somebody who is sad or struggling

€      Look in the mirror and say something kind to yourself

€      Practice mindfulness

€      Write a note to yourself about 3 things you are grateful for

€      Ask someone how their day has been

€      Say well done to somebody who has done a good job

€      Do something kind for yourself

€      Give yourself and somebody else a compliment

€      Say thank you to somebody who has done something for you

€      Add a supportive and kind comment on social media

€      Take a break from social media if that would be a kind thing to do for yourself

Being kind to yourself is sometimes easier said than done but there are a number of techniques and skills you can practice that can help you tone up your kindness skills. The charity, Anxiety UK has created the K.I.N.D.N.E.S.S mnemonic for people to use as a reminder to be kind to themselves and others. The memory aid is a prompt to help people focus on the key (kindness) ingredients that help build and maintain physical and mental health. The “kindness ingredients” are:

  • Keep learning
  • Interact
  • Notice
  • Decide
  • Nurture
  • Exercise
  • Self-care
  • Support others

 

Sometimes, it’s the little things

For many people, the New Year feels like a fresh start. With the slate wiped clean, it’s an ideal time to spruce up our lives. So we make resolutions to lose weight, to play the piano daily, to learn Mandarin. These vows are an ancient practice: The Babylonians and the Romans also made solemn promises to their gods at New Year’s, though they may have been no better at fulfilling their resolutions than we are now.

We typically throw ourselves into life-changing pursuits with unbridled enthusiasm — for about a week or two. Then we find ourselves halfway through a dinner-plate-size cookie at the coffee shop or lounging in front of the TV, having “forgotten” the scheduled language class or the workout. After this comes the self-reproach: Why do I even try?

Fewer than one in 10 of us actually keeps resolutions, according to University of Scranton research. The reasons have less to do with a failure of character or consistency than with unrealistic resolution-making and inadequate resolution-keeping techniques, says Zen teacher and author Cheri Huber. Her insights can help make your New Year’s vows more achievable, less stressful, and even more fun.

Challenges to Overcome

  • Holiday guilt. One of the biggest problems with New Year’s resolutions is that they come at the end of a season when you tend to yield to your cravings. “During the holidays, your overindulgence has broken the structures that support you in being the person you want to be, so you feel guilty and are hard on yourself,” Huber says. “Now’s the time, you think, to really clean up your act.”
  • The rebellious negative. We’re inclined to assert our autonomy by breaking rules — even ones we set for ourselves. “Often, ‘I don’t want to’ or ‘I don’t feel like it’ is much stronger in people than ‘I want to,’ ” she explains. “It’s our ego talking us into doing things that we are going to feel bad about later.”
  • Unrealistic expectations. Resolving to finish a marathon after training for two weeks is unmistakably impractical. But self-deception can also sneak into our most pragmatic intentions: “We have a problem if we make resolutions that are completely counter to our day-to-day choices,” Huber asserts. “If I have an ingrained habit of drinking a Frappuccino every morning and then vow to stop drinking anything sweet in the morning altogether, I’m going to rebel, and then the power of the negative is going to kick in.”
  • Magical thinking. “We hope that making a resolution at New Year’s will have a magical effect,” she says, “and that magic will somehow overcome our resistance.” But overcoming habits almost always requires a series of carefully considered steps.
  • Forgetting. “At our meditation center, we regularly check in with people on the vows and decisions they’ve made,” Huber notes, “and it’s amazing how often they say, ‘Uh, what did I decide?’” She adds that the more far-fetched a resolution is, the more likely it is to simply slip our minds.
  • Feeling better. You feel good after practicing guitar every day for a week, then you lose focus. Or after dropping some weight, you reward yourself — with a doughnut. The moment we’re no longer motivated by misery, says Huber, is often the moment we’re in danger of forgetting our resolve.

Strategies for Success

  • Make small resolutions. “Don’t let the voices in your head talk you into something extreme that is just going to set up another failure,” says Huber. Instead of vowing to lose 20 pounds, commit to 5. Instead of resolving to give up all sugar, start by replacing your daily pastry with a banana and almond butter. “Wholesale change almost never works,” she says. “But incremental changes do — and then you build on them.”
  • Celebrate little successes. If you vow to lose 5 pounds or practice yoga five days in a row, Huber believes that’s five chances to praise yourself. “Celebrate each lost pound — or each day you stay on your training regimen,” she recommends. These celebrations don’t have to be a big deal. You could listen to a podcast you’ve been saving, or treat yourself to a box of fancy tea.
  • Enjoy the process. Huber suggests that if you’re having fun during the first five days, you’re more likely to say to yourself, Hey, I might really enjoy practicing yoga these next five days, too.
  • Be accountable to someone. “Finding somebody outside of yourself who can keep you on track can really help,” Huber advises. Join a class, get a coach, or partner with a friend. Accountability can make all the difference.
  • Listen to yourself. Make a recording of yourself stating your goals, and listen to it every morning, she suggests. You can also write your resolution down on a daily calendar as a memory prompt.
  • Go for positive change. If you’re discouraged by past resolutions gone wrong, try simply setting some good intentions: Write down things you’re grateful for once a week. Make a list of friends you’ve missed and contact them to make dinner plans. These changes will have plenty of positive impacts on your life while steering you clear of the achievement conundrum — because you can’t fail at them.
  • Cultivate self-kindness. “All change is easier if we are kind to ourselves,” Huber says, because self-kindness isn’t the same as self-indulgence — that’s more ego-driven and rebellious. “Kindness to ourselves is doing those things we know we will never regret.”

Blue Monday

It doesn’t take a genius to work out why January might be a rubbish month.

For some, the anti-climax of Christmas will have brought looming bills and the departure of loved ones, while others will have to contend with grey, cold weather while taking on New Years resolutions that bring about more boredom than satisfaction. These rubbish feelings all form part of one timelessly controversial calculation: the Blue Monday formula. The formula claims to calculate the most depressing day of the year, and typically puts it at the third Monday in January. But how much scientific clout is behind the theory, and why is it such a big hit in marketing circles?

Time to book a break

The Blue Monday formula was created by Cliff Arnall. Arnall, who was a psychologist at the time, was contacted by now-defunct TV channel Sky Travel. “Sky Travel asked me what I thought was the best day to book a summer holiday.  That question got legs as I considered the motives for why people wanted to book such a holiday.  That’s how we ended up with the most depressing day of the year, Blue Monday,” Arnall said. “I had no idea the formula was going to take off like it has.” 

Fourteen years later, the idea of Blue Monday has travelled across the world, infuriating scientists and giving marketing departments a chance to boost the post-Christmas sales figures.

‘Pseudo-science’

The formula takes into account the following factors: weather conditions, debt level (the difference between debt accumulated and our ability to pay), time since Christmas, time since failing our new year’s resolutions, low motivational levels and feeling of a need to take action.

As one scientist noted to Broadly, adding weather to debt is as useful as “add your running speed to the colour of an apple”.

“These scientific equations are unscientifically informative, and driven by money,” wrote doctor and critic of bad science Ben Goldace in The Guardian in 2016. “It is corrosive, meaningless, empty, bogus nonsense that serves only to caricature and undermine science.”

Mental health marketing

But though the theory was debunked just a year after it was created, it is going strong fourteen years later.

And the formula – which has travelled around the globe and has been written about in publications ranging from USA Today to Bradford Telegraph and Argus is still being treated as gospel by some.

Mental health charity Mind have actively decided to distance themselves from the formula, saying that it “trivialises” people with mental health issues.

Philippa Bradnock, information manager says “The third Monday in January is often dubbed ‘Blue Monday’, the so-called most depressing day of the year. Despite the fact the phrase originates from an advertising campaign and there is no credible evidence to show that one day in particular can increase the risk of people feeling depressed, the myth of Blue Monday continues to persist.”

Time to move on

As companies line up to sell their wares on Blue Monday, one marketing expert thinks it’s time for them to knock the formula on the head.

Chris Daly, CEO at the Chartered Institute of Marketing said: “As marketing professionals, we must also reflect and ask ourselves whether news hooks like these still serve the best interests of our customers and their expectations. We know that increasingly consumers are interested in brands doing good – and while topical discounts and offers may boost reputation in the short-term, there’s growing concerns from consumers that the day trivialises issues relating to mental health.”

“Marketers should be careful about alienating their customer base by pinning promotions or social content to Blue Monday. More consideration is needed otherwise it is seen as just adding to the noise.”

My view? January is a tough month, especially these days. Shame on those who monetise misery.