So, it’s nearly upon us once again. As if Storm Brendan wasn’t enough to have us all hunkering down, next week will commence with the annual misery-fest that is ‘Blue Monday.’
If you weren’t aware (kudos to you), Blue Monday is supposedly the gloomiest day of the year, created by the perfect storm of miserable grey skies and inclement weather, post-Christmas deflation, dark nights and the arrival of the Christmas hangover, the credit card bills. What I didn’t know, is that there is actually a formula to calculate the date:
Factors include, the weather (W), Debt (D), Time since Christmas (T) and time elapsed since failing our New Year resolutions (Q). Or, is it just a gimmick, conjured up by those creative forces behind the Sky Travel advertising campaign back in 2004? Certainly, the creator of the formula, psychologist Cliff Arnall, has since encouraged people to consider the notion as ‘pseudoscience’ and not to take the whole thing too seriously.
There are, however, certain inescapable facts about this time of year and the general feeling of wanting to hibernate, of wanting spring to come and ‘just a bit of sunshine would be nice,’ affects most of us at some stage during the winter months. Hence the holiday adverts of course.
Consider popular culture’s take on the whole winter thing…
Song: January by Pilot, 1975
Poetry doesn’t help…
The days are short, The sun a spark, Hung thin between The dark and dark… (John Updike) https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/january-30/
Oh dear, oh dear…
Then, of course, come all the adverts associated with this depressing thought – as if we could all spend our way out of our ‘funk.’ Buy a holiday, pamper yourself with a new beauty treatment, eat a burger, buy some luxury toilet roll? It’s only a matter of time before you see that one.
Here’s a fact. Monday 20th January 2020 (interesting, a lot of 20’s – I promise not to read anything into that), will be another Monday. It will be a day in January. And, more importantly, it will be like every other day of the year. A day full of potential, a day full of worry, a day full of joy, a day full of despair, a day full money worries, a day of success… you get the point. There are 7 billion of us, we are all having different days every day. The important thing is not to get hung up on the fact that somebody has made it OK to be miserable on this one day of the year. That way it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And anyway, it’s OK to be miserable any other day of the year. And the fact is, there are millions of people who do feel that way. To assign one day to misery is to take away the fact that there are people suffering on every day of the year. Blue Monday is, perhaps, an opportunity. A chance to talk about mental health issues and a chance to reach out to someone who is having a tough time or living with a serious (and often invisible) illness.
There are lots of things that we can all do to take care of our mental health. There are lots of things that we can do to help others with their mental health too. In a capitalist country, retailers would have you believe that you can buy your way to happiness. You did see the Debt factor in Cliff Arnall’s formula, didn’t you?
Ok, so I know I’m biased but Nature is still free right? I mean, I haven’t seen mobs of crows shaking people down for a little gander (although I have seen a gander shaking people down for some bread, but that’s a different story). And I know the weather isn’t great, but you can’t jump in a puddle without a little rain. And isn’t it relaxing, listening to the rain patter (or batter depending where you are) against the window when you’re all cosy inside?
Being out in Nature has all kinds of benefits for your physical and mental wellbeing. Bringing Nature indoors also has positive effects – I’m not suggesting that you adopt a duck by the way. Nature helps to reduce stress, releasing hormones such as dopamine, in turn helping to lower blood pressure, relaxing muscle tension and soothing us through our natural predisposition to find trees, plants, rivers etc engrossing. As well as improving our mental health, research has also shown a propensity to improve our ability to concentrate and to socialise with others, creating stronger ideas of community and connection (just look at the power of an idea – the current Climate Change movement as an example). In contrast, time spent staring at screens (probably busy trying to get us outside to spend money!) is well-known to have links to depression and depleting our ability to empathise and depleting our altruistic nature.
So, here are some ideas (mostly free!) for getting better connected to Nature and in turn, boosting your mental health.
1. Take a walk
Rain or shine or everything in between, a simple outdoor activity that is not only good for you physically (taking it at a steady pace and every opportunity to get distracted) but the exercise also releases dopamine, reduces cortisol levels and in just two hours of nature time a week your mental health is significantly boosted. Add to that the joy of splashing in puddles, playing Poohsticks or playing ‘I-spy’ and you’re on your way!
2. Noah’s Ark/Nature Snap
A sit-by-the-window game or an outdoors activity and really simple. Spot an animal or a tree or a flower (or whatever you choose) and shout ‘Snap!’ as soon as you see another one. Collect two animals at a time for the Noah’s Ark game – they must be seen in pairs. Whilst writing this I have seen two magpies (I know, lucky right?) and two pigeons (admittedly they were busy trying to make it three if you know what I mean but it still counts).
3. Nature sketch/chase
We’re not looking for Picasso here just a simple exercise of observation, concentration and patience. Take a notepad/sketchbook and either sit at the window sketching something that catches your attention or go deeper into nature and see what you can find. Level up by perhaps producing a map for someone else to follow next time and find your artistic muse! If you’re feeling technical, you can always take a photo of your chosen subject – a great game for this is the modern ‘paper chase,’ take a photo and sent it to the ‘pack’ at different stages of the chase, leaving the ‘hunters’ a trail of photos to follow as clues to your location.
4. Nature face
Using only natural materials, make an artistic face. It can be as complex or as simple as you like. You could even create a natural gallery along your route for others to enjoy. Use different coloured leaves for hair, twigs for a mouth or a nose, grass for a beard…
There are different variations of this game which can be played indoors or out, and they all get you thinking. The easiest version is to find something in your field of vision that begins with the letter A then B and so on… (Z would be interesting, unless you’re in the Serengeti and you’re probably overloaded with Z’s). Next you can try to link each of the things you list with a feeling you notice in yourself when you observe it e.g. Apple-Hungry, Chaffinch-Happy. Once you’ve amassed a few words and feelings you could use the letter values for Scrabble and see who has got the highest score.
Or, you could just enjoy silently observing nature around you… just a thought.
So, give Blue Monday the heave-ho and next time New Order (maybe this reference only appeals to a certain age group) ask you, ‘How does it feel?...’ You can say ‘Great!’