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December is a time of fun, over-indulgence, and quality time with friends and family. Understandably, once it’s over and January comes around, many people feel low and demotivated. This post-Christmas comedown is only worsened by the limited sunshine and shorter days that January has to offer.

In this article we hope to provide you with five, evidence-based ways of improving your mood and well-being. We hope these suggestions will help you to overcome those January blues!

5 Ways to improve mood and mental well-being

1. Exercise – Staying active is a great way to boost your mood and reduce anxiety (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11148895). In fact, some studies have shown that exercise is as effective as medication for reducing depressive symptoms (e.g. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17846259).

Exercise doesn’t have to mean spending an hour on a treadmill in a busy gym. It’s important to find something that you enjoy doing; it could be hiking in the countryside, learning a martial art or geocaching (https://www.geocaching.com/play). If you’ve not exercised for a while, then start with small, manageable chunks.

Playing team sports or joining a sports club are great ways of meeting new people. This brings us on to our second suggestion…

2. Connect/Socialize – Humans are social creatures. Good-quality, secure relationships are crucial for our mental well-being. Strengthening our relationships with family and friends, and broadening our social circle, can help increase our feeling of belonging and self-worth.

There is lots of evidence on the importance of relationships for our mental well-being. In the longest ever running study on happiness, psychologists found that it’s not hard work, wealth, or fame that lead to happiness, but strong relationships (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15861579-triumphs-of-experience).

Making plans to meet up with friends or family members will not help strengthen these relationships but will also give you something to look forward to. If you want to meet new people, then try joining a sports club or volunteer with a local charity. Alternatively, there are many websites designed to help you meet other like-minded people.

3. Sleep well – Getting adequate, regular sleep is vital for our mental health and well-being. There is a wealth of evidence linking poor sleep to poor mental health (e.g. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23814343).

‘Getting more sleep’ may be easier said than done, but practicing good sleep hygiene is a useful way of improving the amount, and quality of, sleep that you have. Try establishing a bed-time routine, avoid caffeine and nicotine before bed and leave your mobile phone on silent and in a drawer when you go to bed.

4. Be Grateful – In recent years psychologists have begun to uncover the benefits of gratitude for our mental well-being. Simply thinking about those things that you are grateful for seems to improve mood and outlook on life. For example, research carried out at California University found that individuals who wrote down five things that they were grateful for (once a week, for ten weeks) reported feeling better about their lives as a whole and were more optimistic about the week ahead (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/pdfs/GratitudePDFs/6Emmons-BlessingsBurdens.pdf).

5. Be Mindful – Many of us rush through our daily lives without ever savoring or appreciating the moment. Mindfulness is the act of paying attention to the present moment; to both our thoughts and our environment. By taking time to be aware of the present moment, we begin to experience afresh things that we had previously taken for granted.

Mindfulness has received a great deal of research attention in recent years and there’s a growing body of evidence pointing towards its benefits for our mental health and well-being (e.g. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15256293).

Practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming. There are many online videos that can help you to practice in short, manageable chunks.

So there we are, 5 evidence-based suggestions on how to beat those January blues. One final tip – try to stay organised. Buying a diary and planning your days will make it easier to implement these suggestions into your day-to-day life.

Please Note – These suggestions are for low levels of depression/anxiety and should not be used as a replacement for professional help. If you’re concerned about your mental health, if your symptoms have persisted for more than a couple of weeks and they’re preventing you from carrying out day-to-day activities, then it may be time to seek professional help.

Your GP will be able to offer help and guidance. Help may include medication or talking therapy, dependent on your symptoms and preferences.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy is a form of talking therapy that is useful for many different conditions (http://cognitivepractice.com/is-cognitive-behavioural-therapy-right-for-me/)

Connor Heapy
Writer for Cognitive Practice
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