Today, Monday 18 January, is Blue Monday. In a normal year the cold and wet weather, dark nights and credit card bills landing on the door mat take a toll. This year we’re contending with the lockdown too! Feeling ‘blue’ is a perfectly healthy response.
Take a brief look around and all the advice seems to focus on how to stop feeling like this. The message I hear is ‘Do the right thing properly you won’t fee blue’. ‘Feeling fed up or low is not okay.’ So, I must be getting it wrong. If I exercised more, ate better, set clear goals, meditated properly, de-cluttered my life, got through the books on my reading list, practised yoga every morning … the list is endless … I would feel on top of the world.
But the problem is the weather is still wet and cold and it’s hard work getting up and out to walk my dog in dark when I know we’ll both come back caked in mud. It got even worse last week. Walking through a very boggy patch I increasingly became aware my foot was squelching. Yet another pair of wellingtons is leaking! Is there anyone who can get a pair to last longer than 6 months! A new pair of wellies is another cost to add to the two credit card bills that have landed – and there’s no doubt I did get a little carried away buying Christmas decorations this year.
I’m lying to myself if I pretend all this doesn’t matter or that it’s emotional impact can be counter-balanced with some positive thinking or by saying ‘pull yourself together and get on with it’. Trying to convince myself there is a quick fix just denies the reality of my experience.
Acknowledging, accepting and allowing myself to feel stressed and irritated on and off this last week has had a remarkable effect. I’ve started to feel better!
There’s no shame in feeling down. It’s not a sign of weakness, or an indicator you can’t cope. Taking some time out to notice and experience these feelings isn’t wallowing. It’s just accepting my human condition.
People often tell me that they’re frightened if they engage with the feelings, it will never end. They imagine if they allow themselves to feel low, they will spiral down, feeling lower and lower until there is no way back. But the reality is emotions come in waves. They may feel intense, but they always pass and there’s calmness in their wake.
So, my advice today, for Blue Monday, is notice and acknowledge how you feel, with no self criticism or condemnation and certainly no ‘lectures’ about what you should be doing to make everything perfect. You might be surprised how far you can go with a little acceptance.
Here we are in another lockdown. Even though most of us were expecting it, it still felt pretty sudden when it came. 2020 may have taught us flexibility and adaptability, but 2021 is already taking it to a whole new level.
This time it’s not a new experience. We know what to expect. We were already living with significant restrictions in my area, so slotting back into the routine of last March and April was easy enough. In fact, I barely stopped to catch my breath. I simply made the necessary changes and cracked on. It might sound like I’m adjusting well and on one level I really am. I’m not anxious and I’m able to offer stability and containment to people around me. There is another way to view my response though. Have I taken a moment to register how I feel about what’s happening? Am I reflecting on what is lost to me during this lockdown? Have I noticed the impact on the relationships that matter most to me? The answer is no.
I know why I’m like this. Pushing on, come what may, means I don’t run the risk of encountering myself. If I don’t have to engage with my own experience. I can steer clear of what I feel. It’s one of many effective, unconscious defensive strategies I developed years and years ago to insulate me from painful experiences. It has side effects, though. One of the biggest is the disconnect with my day-to-day experience and while there are things I might want to dodge, there are plenty I want to acknowledge and savour. Making this process conscious gives me choice.
I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions but spotting how I have been in the first couple of weeks of 2021, perhaps this year I’ll encourage myself to slow down and savour.
Savouring is all about stepping outside an experience to take a moment and really notice and appreciate it. For example, I can walk my dog, Minty, listening to a podcast with half my mind and going over the jobs for the day with the other half or I can focus my attention on Minty and the surroundings. I can notice how much he’s loving the space and freedom. I can listen to the birds and feel the cold on my cheeks. Sitting here now as I write this, I know which option sounds the most rewarding!
Yesterday morning’s walk was freezing cold, foggy and brilliant. With very little effort I took the savouring further and really amplified the experience. I gave Minty a big smile and hug every time he came back for a treat. I acknowledged how lucky I was to be in that space in that moment. I told my family about it later, not forgetting to mention my frozen hair. I took a selfie and pictures of Minty to remind myself later what a fantastic morning it was. I definitely didn’t tell myself to appreciate it now because it would be over soon and there isn’t another morning like that one in the forecast. I didn’t wish for the ground to be softer or easier to walk on or engage in any other thought process that would stop the savouring.
Savouring isn’t just about particular events or occasions like a dog walk. If I really slow down, I can make it part of my every day. For example, I make lots of cups and tea and coffee during the working day. I always drink them at my desk and rarely get through much more than about a third of a mug. I can change this. I can cut down the number of drinks I make to one or two but turning each one into an opportunity to savour, really tasting and appreciating the drink and the moment.
Why do I care so much about slowing down and savouring? It’s been proven to boost happiness. It stops us from missing the moment completely or simply taking it for granted.
Tomorrow I’m going to give myself permission to really savour the morning dog walk. I think I’ll get myself a really delicious treat too, perhaps a small tub of a creamy ice cream. Later in the day I can eat it slowly, one fully appreciated mouthful at a time!