January isn’t exactly the happiest of months – we’re skint from Christmas, overwhelmed from the number of New Year’s resolutions we’ve made (and already broken), and despite our best efforts, we’re not feeling overly positive about the year ahead. The combination of all this means our health and wellbeing can take a bit of a downward turn, so we’ve rounded up six small changes to improve your mindset and kickstart your new year.
Structure your sleep pattern
Despite the fact that 10 millions Brits skip sleep to binge-watch TV, we know we should be getting more sleep. But finding a way to get into a structured sleep routine can be tricky. Lisa Artis, a sleep advisor at The Sleep Council, recommends “the three R’s”: routine, regular hours, and a restful environment. Lisa says: “routines that are associated with sleep signal the brain that it’s time to wind down”. Also, try to make sure you’re going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time, and clear your bedroom of mess and distractions (especially phones and laptops) - tidy room, tidy mind, right?
Switch off from screens
It’s the age-old advice: turn your phone off before bed and your wellbeing will skyrocket. We know that’s not easy to achieve, but small steps can really make a difference. Try putting your phone on ‘airplane mode’ an hour before bed, and replace the time you would have spent scrolling with meditating, reading, or journaling. During the day, put your phone on ‘do not disturb’ so you’re not tempted to check it every time you get a notification, freeing you up to be much more productive.
Whether you use a structured journal that you fill in each day, a bullet journal to track your sleep, meals and mood, or just a notebook to document your thoughts, writing things down helps to relieve stress. Steph Ream from The Blurt Foundation, a social enterprise dedicated to helping those affected by depression, says that “journalling can help us to identify patterns in our mood, our pain points or causes of stress. When we build in something like a self-care tracker, it can help us to maintain the practices and boundaries that we identify as being important to our wellbeing”. It’s also a great way to pass the time, focus and clear your head.
Find a cause to volunteer for
This one might sound like it requires a bit more effort, but it’s worth it. There are loads of worthy causes that need all hands on deck, especially at this time of year. Whether it’s helping out at a food bank or shelter or clearing rubbish from local parks, it’s a great way to give back to the community. It might be an evening a week or a couple of hours at the weekend, and you’ll meet new people whilst doing something really worthwhile.
Be conscious of what you eat
Rather than trying to cut out food, why not improve your relationship with it? Eating healthily doesn’t have to be boring, and the new year is the perfect time to learn a new skill – there’s plenty of easy to follow recipe books helping you to get your five a day, and you can batch-cook at the weekends to save time during the week. While you’re doing this, take a look at your shopping habits – try cutting down on the amount of pre-packaged food you buy, and visit your local market to stock up on organic fruit and veg.
Get some perspective through meditation
Meditation is a great way to improve your stress coping mechanisms and increase your capacity for happiness and creativity. Regular meditation reprogrammes the brain, training your mind to be more open and less reactive by observing the way you react to certain triggers. For beginners, Emma Mills, the author of a new meditation guidebook Inhale. Exhale. Repeat recommends meditating in the mornings and taking a proactive approach, rather than waiting until you feel stressed or overwhelmed. Emma says: “it’s okay if it’s not easy at first ... listening to audio breathing exercises can help guide you. Apps like Headspace and Calm are a good place to start”.
- Becca McAuley studies MA Newspaper Journalism at City, University of London and can usually be found reading on the tube or chasing after cute dogs.