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7 tips for taking care of your mental health all year round

Today is Blue Monday, supposedly the most depressing day of the year. So if you feel blue, you are not alone.  

For most of us, the winter months are challenging for our mental health. Cold weather, shorter days, the end of the festive season, and the pressure of new year's resolutions can exacerbate poor mental health. 


But what exactly is Blue Monday? 

Blue Monday is the third Monday in January - the most depressing day of the year. The concept was first mentioned in 2005 by the travel company Sky Travel, claiming that they had calculated the third Monday in January to be the most depressing day. Even though experts have later discarded the calculations as nonsensical, it has stuck to this day. 

And although no scientific evidence supports Blue Monday, many people struggle in winter months. For example, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) - a form of depression that may manifest in certain seasons - is at its peak in January. Seasonal depression is a proven condition. Symptoms can include irritability, persistent low mood and feelings of worthlessness. So no matter how and why Blue Monday started, it is an excellent reminder to ensure we care for ourselves, including our mental health. 


Prioritising mental health all year round is the best thing; however, we should pay special attention to it this time of year. There are simple yet effective things we can do daily to keep our optimal mental health. 

1. A good night's sleep is crucial.
It is not only important to get enough hours of sleep but also to make sure you get a good night's sleep. Develop a relaxing bedtime routine to help you start winding down before sleep. Avoid TV and mobile screens, alcohol and caffeine before bed. Go to bed and get up at around the same time every day, including at weekends. Ensure the temperature in your bedroom is between 16 and 18 degrees Celsius.


2. Maintain a healthy diet.
Food and drink affect our bodies, brains and mood - for good or bad. A balanced diet, with lots of vegetables and fruit, is essential for good physical and mental health. How we eat is also important. Having meals with other people can help to grow relationships. 


3. Move your body.
Exercise – sports, gardening, dancing, cycling, walking the dog, cleaning or going to the gym, for example – is a great way to improve our mental and physical health.


4. Connect with others.
Spending time with family, friends or pets can boost positive feelings, help ward off anxiety, and make you feel connected to others. It is crucial to find support when you or someone you know is struggling and feeling down. This might be a friend or family member or a mental health professional. 


5. Spend time in nature.
Nature can have an instant calming effect on us. In Japan, people use “forest bathing” because of its benefits to their mental health. So going to a forest and experiencing the different smells and sounds may help. When you are in nature, try tuning your senses to what’s around you – the trees, plants, birds and animals, and water such as rivers, lakes or the sea. Take a deep breath and see how you feel.


6. Breathe deep.
Take in a nice slow breath. Start from your belly; expand through your ribs, chest, and lungs. Breathe out just as slowly. Counting can help. Do deep breathing regularly, not just when you are feeling stressed.


7. Plan things you look forward to.
Making plans for things we enjoy can increase our sense of hope, which is important for our mental health. Whether it's small or a big one, the important thing is to plan it.



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