How to reclaim January and beat the blues
Author: Rosie Gizauskas
Blue Monday, the third Monday of each January, is said to be the most depressing day of the year. This statistic was actually made up by a holiday company called Sky Travel to flog holidays back in 2005 and has been dismissed as pseudoscience by scientists, who are apparently all loaded, with great bodies and are hangover-resistant. So ignore them.
January being rubbish is real. Seasonal Affective Disorder affects one in 15 Brits. For the other 14 out of 15 people, the pain is still real. This year Blue Monday will fall on January 21, but instead of fearing it, we’re calling for a challenge. Forget January being a battle, we want to cruise through it. Hell, we want to actually enjoy it. And we want to come out the other side stronger, happier, suaver than ever. So we’ve spoken to some experts – and here's how to do it.
Beat the blues with… colour and fabric
We show the world who we want to be by the way we dress. In January, this often means bundling ourselves up in the warmest gear possible, cramming ourselves in on the tube and then charging home at 5pm on the dot, whilst making as little eye contact as possible. But what we wear doesn't have to take a hit. And it can make you feel much, much better to boot.
Be savvy when you hit the January sales, and invest in colours and fabrics that are going to make you feel happy. Melita Latham, fashion designer and textiles expert, says that it's more important than ever to pick the right colours as they can boost your mood.
“Clothing is a reflection of one's personality,” she says. “Colours such as yellows, mustards and coral will make you feel uplifted, while blue and green are good if you want to feel calm.”
Black isn't the most uplifting of colours, but it is a shade that many wear to work, especially in terms of suits. “Try to pick out a shirt to go with your suit that incorporates a pattern or colour that breaks up with black, such as yellow, which is a joyful colour. Baby blue is also fantastic and should give you more confidence.”
In terms of fabrics themselves, Melita recommends layering. “I recommend lots of different textures, and lots of lots of layers to keep out the chill. Choose your favourite fabrics – for me, that's cashmere.” Cashmere is indulgent, and while it might not be the cheapest, it's a classic that you will keep forever – and it’s incredibly cosy.
Beat the blues with… exercise:
Ah, the gym. Both our enemy and our friend, after two weeks of stuffing our faces it is essential in January and there are abs somewhere under that mince pie gut. But even more important is the way that exercise will make you feel during this dismal time of year.
“Exercise is always a great idea. It's an even better thing to do in January when you're focusing on your goals for the year ahead,” a personal trainer and owner of the 38ºN Academy, a fitness coaching and retreat business.
“Mood-wise, exercise releases endorphins into the body and you will look and feel better after each workout, which is why GPs now prescribe exercise for depression as it both alleviates the symptoms and also prevents it.”
The most effective types of exercise for mood-boosting is high intensity interval training (HIIT), an extremely efficient form of exercise for fat burning. The great thing is that HIIT is short and sweet and it means that you can get in and out of the gym quickly and back to the sofa where you belong – plus you'll keep on burning fat for hours after your workout.
“You get more bang for your buck with HIIT,” says James. “A 20-minute workout will give amazing results in terms of boosting your metabolism, increase your cardiovascular fitness and decrease your body fat. Try combinations of any vigorous exercises, such as running on the spot, crunches and burpees for 40 seconds with only short periods of rest, at around 20 seconds and you'll soon feel your mood lift.”
All well and good, but how do you motivate yourself to get up and actually go to the gym when it's miserable weather outside? It's all about prep, says James. “It might sound obvious, but pack your gym bag the night before so that you can bring it with you to work in the morning, or head straight there when you get up.”
Beat the blues with… what you eat
January is synonymous with the word “diet”. Whatever your body goals are for the year ahead, it's pretty likely that you’ll have eaten several thousand chipolatas during December – and it's now time to get back on track with, you know, normal eating habits.
There are solid choices you can make with food that will help cheer you up body-wise, says nutritionist Lily Soutter.
Lily recommends getting good-quality protein into your diet as this is rich in tryptophan, an amino acid, that will help with feeling happy. “You'll find tryptophan in turkey and chicken,” Lily said. “It's the precursor to our happy hormone, serotonin, and research has shown that combining a protein-rich food like turkey or chicken with a carbohydrate can boost the absorption of tryptophan. A chicken sandwich on wholegrain bread is perfect.”
Lily also stresses the importance of fibre-rich carbs in the diet. “Though low carb diets are all the rage in January, cutting out carbs has been linked to low moods and help the production of serotonin. Not everyone is going to feel good on a low-carb diet. It's about balance.”
Vitamin D is also recommended, as not getting enough has been linked to seasonal affective disorder. We don't get enough of this between October and April in the UK as UVB rays are scarce. Lily recommends taking a supplement to top your levels up, which could also help boost your mood.
Beat the blues with… grooming
We've put all that effort into how we look over the party season, but that doesn't mean that you have to let things slide in January.
Male groomer Eliot McQueen recommends putting a bit of effort in in January, too.
“Your hair and skin can take the brunt of the cold weather in the new year. I would invest in a really great daily face wash to brighten your face,” he says. “I've been using Kiehl's Calendula Deep Cleansing Face Wash and it will declog your pores without drying it out. There's also a face mask that goes with it if you need to cleanse that little bit deeper. Kiehl's Healgel Intensive is also brilliant for after shaving, and really helps with tight skin in the winter.”
Eliot also stresses the importance of keeping your hair in shape in January. “Christmas is expensive, but you'll feel so much better if you have a fresh cut every four to six weeks,” he says. “Don't get lazy – keep the sides neat and you'll feel a hundred times fresher. A good haircut can go a long way and gives the illusion that you’ve got your life together.”
Beat the blues with… fragrance
There's nothing better than a good scent to perk you up. But aftershave doesn't have to be something that you just put on for a night out. Scents can be used as a powerful way to lift the mood on a daily basis – and different types of scents can have different effects.
Fragrance consultant Hayley Forster from Pretty Little Aroma says, “Smell is the only sense that links back to emotions and memories, and it's a very powerful sense that people don't tend to consider as much.”
“Happy” can mean different things to different people – it might be feeling relaxed, while others will feel at their best when they are motivated
“For motivation, you want to look for citrus notes, so oranges, lemons, burgamot, tangerine and mandarin,” says Hayley. “Mandarin is a huge trend at the moment. For this, I'd recommend Infusion of Mandarin by Prada. It's very vibrant but not too in your face with top notes of bitter orange and mandarin, as well as orange blossom and lily.”
If you want to chill out and unwind, try a scent with woody notes, such as cypress, spruce, sandalwood and cedarwood. These facilitate emotional stability and make you feel more balanced – that's why they're used for meditation in incense sticks. Ylang ylang and lavender are also very relaxing.
“I'd recommend Improved Silence by Roads, a unisex fragrance with woody, creamy, vanilla notes for feeling chilled,” says Hayley. “Paco Rabanne One Million is also an absolute classic, with warm and sensual notes of amber and leather.”