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Older couple laughing and hugging outside

New Year positivity guide

January and February can feel bleak at the best of times, but they're likely to feel even harder this year. There is hope on the horizon of a more 'normal' life to come, however, so here are some tips on how to stay upbeat for the next couple of months.

Click a week to jump straight there, or read on

January

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4

February

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4

January

Week 1

Jolt yourself out of January

The Christmas festivities might have been played out with restrictions but it was still a chance to celebrate and relax. So what's there to feel good about now? "Mindset is everything," says psychologist Dr Meg Arroll. "There are many things we cannot change – like the pandemic – but we do have control over our emotional responses.

"If you continually tell yourself how horrible January is, chances are it will feel grim. Try to change your internal monologue. I also personally use 'energy imagery' if I am feeling a bit down: I bring to mind a time and place where I felt particularly good – like holidays!

"The key is to recall the event/location so that it reinvigorates you again. Think of exactly what you saw, heard, smelled or tasted. The more detail, the more powerful the exercise."

Week 2

Wrap up your worries

"Respect the spirit of the season rather than fighting it," says Miriam Akhtar, founder of Positive Psychology Training. "This is your time to get cosy and into 'hygge', or cocooning."

The Scandinavian trend of hygge – loosely translated as 'cosiness of the soul' (think hunkering down in the warmth with cosy throws, candles, warm pyjamas etc) – is just one inspiring feel-good cultural tradition.

You could also look to the Norwegian trend of 'friluftsliv' – embracing and appreciating the beauty of the outdoors. There's also 'niksen' – the Dutch art of purposefully doing nothing (and, crucially, not feeling guilty for it). The Swedish and Norwegian concept of 'lagom' could also help; this translates as having just enough, or being grateful for what you have.

Cosy hygge scene with candles and hot drink

In winter, many in Northern Europe embrace the cosy concept of hygge.

Week 3

Lift your mood this Blue Monday… with a fork

The third Monday of the year is often designated 'Blue Monday', allegedly the most depressing day of the year, with little to look forward to for months and at least another week until payday.

To head off the blues, Healthspan's Head of Nutrition Rob Hobson recommends eating mood-boosting foods like fruit and vegetables; salmon and mackerel (omega 3-rich fish may help with low mood); oats (help maintain balanced blood sugar levels); dark chocolate and Brazil nuts (rich in selenium).

Eating regularly is key to keeping your mood stable, as sudden drops in blood sugar will leave you tired and moody.

Week 4

Go for an endorphin rush

Nicola Addison, personal trainer, says, "This is the time of year so many of us make excuses not to exercise – it's too cold and too dark. But you'll burn more calories keeping warm exercising outdoors.

"If you really can't bear to go out, encourage those feel-good endorphins at home – using routines and classes online."

With gyms and pools closed during lockdown many of us have already adapted to doing online workouts, and you can find everything from yoga, dance classes, and, of course, Joe Wicks at the click of a button.

If you do venture out, walking is free and available to us all. Take inspiration from a walking app like Active 10 or challenge yourself to take up running using the Couch to 5K programme.

Older couple running in the snow

You will burn lots of calories by exercising outside in the cold.

February

Week 1

Be as kind as you can

The COVID crisis has seen a big rise in anxiety, stress and loneliness, and supporting others makes everyone feel better – not least because caring about someone else has been found to stimulate production of feel-good chemicals like serotonin and oxytocin (often called the 'love hormone') and reduce the production of the stress hormone cortisol.

What's more, being the recipient of a kind act makes you feel noticed, cared about and that you are not alone. Try offering to shop for a shielding and/or vulnerable neighbour and sit for a chat; if you see someone struggling to pay for their shopping step in and help; or give food to your local food bank.

Week 2

Find reasons to be cheerful

In his book Positiverosity (Black Spring Press), SAS-trained adventurer and motivational mentor/speaker David Fox-Pitt uses his experiences to explain how to develop a positive mental attitude or, as he calls it, 'positiverosity' (a hybrid of positive and generosity).

One of his tips is to harness the power of 'cheerfulness in the face of adversity'. It might not feel that there's a whole lot to laugh about right now, but think about it: you can't feel anxious, sad or fearful when you are laughing, and Fox-Pitt suggests that you should, "think of three things that make you roar with laughter and store these images." Mentally play these back when you feel down.

Older lady holding an ipad and laughing

It's hard to feel anxious or fearful when you are laughing.

Week 3

Practise feeling more serene

Mindfulness can be a useful, lifelong strategy for helping to keep you grounded – deadly virus or not. It means focusing your full attention on something and really noticing what you are doing.

Practising mindfulness for a few minutes daily should not only help to keep you focused in a relaxed way; it should also help you to become more 'mindful' of how you feel at that moment – acknowledging your feelings of, perhaps, fearfulness about the future. This should help you have a better understanding of what your body and/or brain needs at a particular point (for example, better food, more exercise or sleep, online psychological support).

Dr Arroll suggests this walking mindfulness exercise: "As you walk, notice the sound of your feet as they hit the ground, feel the air as it swooshes past your face. If you walk mindfully, you'll feel calmer and more alert after this exercise."

Week 4

Get the best of rest

The last year has been a challenging one, and for many of us the uncertainties have had an impact on the quality of our sleep; if you sleep badly, everything in life feels worse.

Sleep experts say the most important thing you can do is get into the habit of going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time every day in order to establish your personal sleep-wake cycle – so use this time to try to establish your routine and get better, more restorative sleep.

Rob Hobson adds: "Exercising good sleep hygiene habits while eating a balanced diet is key, and supplements such as Valerian may be useful in the quest for better sleep."

Jane Collins is a journalist, author and editor specialising in women's health, psychological health and nutrition. She has more than 25 years' experience of writing for UK publications including Top Sante, Men's Health, Daily Telegraph and Evening Standard.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.