January. The month when magazines, Social Media and TV shows urge us to get fit, lose weight, quit all the things we enjoy and generally get out life into order. It’s also the darkest and coldest month of the year. In this article, we cover strategies to foster a mindset of self-care and self-love that feels a good fit for the first month of the year, leaving you with that warm and fuzzy feeling on the inside. You can think of the ideas in the article them as alternative January intentions, rather than “New Year’s Resolutions”. Make January the month you allow yourself the gentle and nurturing wellbeing you deserve.
January: Doorway to a New Beginning
January is named after the Roman god Janus. The word Janus comes from a word meaning doorway, and statues of Janus depict the god with two heads, looking both forward and backwards. Doorways, of course, allow us to go in and out, forwards and backwards and January is a perfect time for looking both forwards and backwards. We can reflect on what has been life-giving and enriching about the previous year in terms of our self-care, as well as considering how we can attend to our wellbeing in this new year.
Give Yourself the Gift of Awareness
Reflection and looking both backwards and forwards helps to develop our self-awareness. That’s our first tip for developing a mindset of gentle self-care and self-love: to develop greater self-awareness. Becoming more aware of our thoughts, feelings and sensations gives us more information about our own experience and more opportunity to respond with kindness. Self-awareness equips us to move out of auto pilot and into more conscious living.
If we are experiencing troubling emotions, it can be tempting to distract and ignore them, to keep busy to keep ourselves from feeling. Indeed, it can be easy to rush through life without stopping to notice much. Awareness, then, can be a very powerful tool for recognizing what is happening physiologically, mentally and emotionally for us in any given moment, and how we experience ourselves in relation to what is happening around us. Simply stopping, sitting, breathing and noticing is a powerful form of self-care that helps us to process feelings and emotions. For many people, the ritual of lighting a candle can help towards such dedicated awareness time. It’s possible to build self-awareness into your daily life this January: aim to be aware of the tastes and textures as you eat. Become aware of sights and sounds on your daily commute. And if you are working from home, notice how you feel in your body as you sit at your desk.
Taking Life-Affirming Breaths
January is also the perfect month to attend to the second of our gentle self-care tips to beat the winter blues: breathing with intention. Each day we take somewhere close to 20,000 breaths a day. Breathing is our basic support system. In times of stress and difficulty, simply focusing on breathing can restore a sense of inner capability and calm. Deep breathing, with an emphasis on the exhale is a form of conscious breathing that can regulate your nervous system. Taking time out to focus on the breath and to restore a sense of calm to your body and mind through mindful breathing can be a powerful form of self-care. And, when budgets are tight after Christmas spending, breathing is a great free form of self-love.
Find Ways to Connect with Nature
January might feel cold, dark and drizzly, but it is still possible to allow yourself chance to benefit from nature. Nature is recognized as a great boost to our wellbeing. A brisk stroll outside does wonders for your physical and mental health. Even if you can’t get outside into nature, it’s still possible to benefit. Amazingly, a study showed a decrease in anxiety levels in critically ill patients who were provided with nature sounds to listen to through headphones. It’s also been shown that simply visualizing natural scenes help reduce anxiety. Tap into the power of your imagination by listening to relaxing nature based playlists, and close your eyes and drift away to some beautiful natural setting. Other ideas that don’t require you to get outside include tending to houseplants and watching birds from your window. Any of these are gentle, holistic options for self-care this January.
Self-Compassionate Self-Care Challenges our January Inner-Critic
Our fourth tip relates to the power of self-compassion as an antidote to the punishing self-criticism many of us live with on a daily basis. Who wouldn’t feel down in January if we are bombarded with an inner critic repeatedly telling us what we ought to do?
Compassion means to notice suffering and then respond without judgement. Self-compassion involves recognizing your own pain and suffering, and responding with care, warmth, kindness and non-judgement. Instead of mercilessly criticizing yourself for shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal struggles. COVID-19 has left many of us facing a great number of personal struggles. Avoid beating yourself up for that, and aim to choose to move towards self-compassion as an alternative. Self-compassion can be allowing yourself to rest when you feel tired. Self-compassion can be forgiving yourself when you make an inevitable mistake. Self-compassion can be telling yourself you are doing the best you can in the context of a global pandemic.
A fantastic tool for helping you develop a self-care mindset this January is to simply notice when you experience self-criticism. Then, pause, and breathe. Ask yourself how you can choose to respond with self-compassion? How can you be kind to yourself today?
Give to Experience Connection
So far, we’ve focused on self-care and self-love. It’s important to also consider our connection to others, and the relationships we have with others. Positive, nurturing relationships are life-enhancing, and result in spontaneous acts demonstrating our care and love for others.
Whether that means giving a thoughtful gift to a friend, writing hope filled words in a card or simply spending a bit of time and effort helping someone, giving is a real expression of care. And giving benefits the giver as well as the receiver. Taking time to demonstrate care to others has been shown to help us feel more energetic and to reduce anxiety, stress and depression. There’s even a strong case to say that those who show care and kindness to others have a lower risk of dying early. Showing care to others is a virtuous circle. They benefit, we benefit. Indeed, evidence-based 5-Ways to Wellbeing Model includes “give” as a way to promote our own mental wellness.
Opening the Door to Self-Care and Self-Love
We’ve covered a range of tips and techniques in this article that can help towards fostering a mindset of self-care and self-love this January. January gives us chance to look back on what has helped us in the past, as well as look forward to new forms of self-care and nurturing and affirming practices. This January why not take the gentle approach to self-improvement? Instead of the punishing diet and fitness regimes focusing on deprivation, consider building self-care into you daily life. Be aware, breathe, connect with nature, practice self-compassion and give to others for a gentle January that will help you beat the Winter Blues.