Hands up all those who made a ‘new year, new you’ resolution, vowed to eat less and exercise more, and entered 2016 full of hope and positivity.
And now hands up if you’re sitting at your desk fed up, craving junk food, stressing over your growing to-do list, feeling sleep deprived because of the early alarm call to fit in a morning jog, and worrying about the credit card bills rolling in after too many gifts and parties over the holiday season.
Yes, the holidays are well and truly over and the rest you enjoyed seems a distant memory. Like millions of others, you are suffering from Janxiety – January anxiety – during the most stressful month of the year.
The last pay cheque is long since spent and the next is just a faint glimmer on the distant horizon.
You’re starting to regret your promise not to check in with work emails during your break as your inbox, like your waistline, has grown out of control.
And scanning through your to-do list you wonder how you will ever find time to sleep, never mind fitting in those promised gym sessions (and you know that when you don’t go to the gym you feel so guilty you comfort-eat to compensate and actually put on more weight, presenting you with an even greater challenge).
‘When we fall off the wagon, we tend to fall further than where we started out,’ says Russell Hemmings, internationally renowned life coach and cognitive and behavioural hypnotherapist, and Friday panel expert. ‘“Oh dear! I didn’t intend to eat that big slice of pizza”,’ we hear ourselves say.
‘Then because we think we’ve already blown our diet, we think we may as well have another slice… and so it goes on.’
The Dubai-based coach says that one way to curb the blues and to cultivate a way to feel good about ourselves is to break down tasks into bite-sized chunks.
‘Identify the few essential tasks that need to be completed every day or that have a deadline attached to them. Prioritise and work through them methodically until they are complete. Any extras can be done in your spare time and if they are not – don’t stress about it,’ says Russell.
‘This way every time you achieve a small task, you will begin to feel a sense of achievement and your mood is bound to go up. This is one way to ensure January doesn’t leave you with a feeling of stress.’
Experts admit that the end of the holiday season, a long wait for the summer holidays, and a fear at least among single people that they may have to spend Valentine’s Day alone, are reasons for a spike in stress levels in January.
Judy James, a US-based psychologist and body language expert, says: ‘Between sale shopping and recovering from the excesses of the party season, the first month of the year can be stressful. It can stimulate negative behaviours such as rising tension, stress levels and high blood pressure.’
If the feeling of stress begins to feel crushing, a good way to tackle it is ‘to go somewhere quiet, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to help you calm down,’ she says.
Connecting more with people can also help, says Professor Ed Watkins, a psychologist at University of Exeter. ‘Be more active, physically and mentally. Immerse yourself in interesting activities and become more concrete and specific in your thinking,’ he says.
So, before it’s too late, here’s how you can tackle Janxiety:
A lengthy and growing to-do list
Although you are three weeks into the new year, you probably are still coming to terms with the changes that have come into place since January 1 – new targets, new deals to start working on, fresh contacts that need to be pursued.
In your time off, you’ve probably thought of a few more projects you’d like to see progress in – and your boss has undoubtedly had similar thoughts for you. The list just got longer.
Add to that the realisation you had when you were off that you really should be cooking more from scratch at home, making more time for family, friends and pastimes – and your list has just leapt to the top of your list of worries.
Life coach Russell says structuring your targets is key to achieving your goals. So identify one overarching final objective. ‘This can apply to anything in your life from weight-loss to career prospects, learning a new skill or even improving your personal relationships,’ he says.
‘Next, work backwards and put in a milestone point that will lead up to that objective end point. Take the first milestone and put the others to one side for later in the process. Now, you have a mini-goal.
‘It’s crucial to put a time scale on this, so think realistically about that, but also build in sufficient challenge so that your motivation doesn’t wane,’ he says.
‘Questions like how, who and why should be at the forefront of your mind,’ Russell continues. ‘“How am I going to achieve this?” will lead you to working out a pathway. “Who am I going to turn to for support?” will lead you to identifying the key people in your life that you need to share your plan with, and “Why am I doing this?” will give you strength when your motivation weakens.’
And to tackle those days where you want to give up, Russell suggests we write a heartfelt letter to ourselves at the very start of the process, explaining why we want to make these changes. ‘Then you can refer to that letter at anytime, making it a powerful mind tool and motivator to help you stay on course,’ he says.
Scale back on your spending to ensure there’s enough left over to meet your bills. Make it one of your realistic resolutions and find simple ways to save without feeling the pinch too much. Cut back on the café coffees, make your own dinner rather than ordering takeaway (you’ll probably save calories too) and enjoy gifts you’ve received rather than indulging in a sales shopping spree – it’s a great time of year to rediscover the joys of reading or walking outside (other resolutions ticked off too!)
Andy Webb of the UK’s Money Advice Service says if you are struggling to survive financially this month, now is the time to act. He advises people to look at all their regular spending and keep track of it throughout the month. ‘Doing this will help you see areas where you may be able to cut back – for example, cancelling unused subscriptions,’ he says.
Unrealistic New Year resolutions
We’ve all made them, promises that sounded laudable at the time, yet within days seemed a stretch too far. Russell says the resolutions we set at the beginning of the year must be challenging but must also be within our reach. ‘This means that it is important to lay strong foundations by planning in detail the steps necessary to achieve your goals,’ he says.
But don’t ditch those unreachable goals completely (then beat yourself up for having no staying power and turn to binge eating for comfort) – instead simply reassess them and break them down into more realistic challenges.
If losing five kilos seems like a daunting uphill battle, set a deadline for just one kilo by eating less and exercising more and when you reach that milestone, look again at an appropriate timescale for the next one – and so on, so your mindset changes gradually rather than with a bang as loud as the fireworks that heralded the arrival of 2016.
‘By changing your mind, you can change your habits, by changing your habits you can change your core behaviour; positive results firm your resolve and so it goes round.’
And in relation to focusing on the positive, he recommends concentrating on gaining health rather than losing weight.
‘Weight loss is the big one everyone strives for at this time of year, but by changing your outlook slightly, you’re more able to see there are so many small changes we can make that contribute to my gain-health philosophy,’ he says.
‘Moreover, numerous small healthy changes are more likely to stick around and will work for good, not just for January. So, while not so extreme as only eating cabbage soup or taking on the mega-gym challenge, focusing on core health means you’re heading towards creating balance, a healthy balance. So next time you’re contemplating that New Year fad diet, rethink… don’t lose, gain!’
Statistically, January accounts for the highest number of divorces and relationship splits and family rifts might be at their worst after a concerted period of time where relatives have been under each other’s feet changing the household dynamic.
Alison Hawes, a specialist divorce and family lawyer at UK law firm Irwin Mitchell, says: ‘Sadly the January divorce spike is no myth as people generally feel that the new year offers a new start for them and their family.
‘Every year we see a marked rise in enquiries and instructions in January from people who have decided that the time is right to separate from their partner.
‘Financial pressures are also known to be key issues in arguments at this time of year with 40 per cent of parents admitting that this was causing strains in their relationship,’ she says. One way to save your relationship from ruin is to take control of your finances. Also, make efforts to spend more quality time with each other and to bond.
Clear your head with a healthy amount of water. Make sure your daily intake is sufficient to maintain efficient levels of hydration which, in turn, help boost clarity of thinking and overall performance.
If you become dehydrated, you will lose energy and become nauseated, develop headaches and feel tired and lethargic – all of which can hold you back from achieving your true potential every day.
But how much is a healthy amount? The popular mantra is eight eight-ounce cups of water a day (the equivalent of two litres).
Mayo Clinic recommends ‘about 13 cups a day for an average male and about nine cups a day for the average female. But the actual amount of water a person should drink in a day can vary based on where you live, how much you weigh, and what kind of lifestyle you lead’.
Dr Emma Derbyshire, senior lecturer in nutritional physiology at Manchester Metropolitan University, says: ‘Dehydration can reduce our ability to concentrate as well as our cognitive performance.’
And don’t worry that you are drinking more than necessary. ‘The body regulates water very carefully and doesn’t allow it to accumulate. Extra water is immediately excreted,’ says Dr Stanley Goldfarb, a professor of medicine at University of Pennsylvania and an expert on fluid management.
Another natural remedy to beat Janxiety is mindfulness meditation.
It can be easy to rush through life without stopping to notice much. Paying more attention to the present moment can improve your mental well-being.
Seasonal stress sees us worrying about what we think we should be doing, what we can’t afford to do and what we miss doing from our time off. Mindfulness teaches us to focus on the moment, how to appreciate the here and now in our daily lives.
‘Even as we go about our daily lives, we can find new ways of waking up to the world around us,’ says Professor Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre in the UK.
‘We can notice the sensations of things, the food we eat, the air moving past the body as we walk.
‘All this may sound very small, but it has huge power to interrupt the autopilot mode we often engage day to day, and to give us new perspectives on life.
‘Similarly, notice the busyness of your mind. Just observe your own thoughts,’ says Professor Williams. ‘Stand back and watch them floating past, like boats on the creek. There is no need to try to change the thoughts, or argue with them, or judge them: just observe. This takes practise.
‘It’s about putting the mind in a different mode, in which we see each thought as simply another mental event and not an objective reality that has control over us.’
You may think about well-being in terms of what you have: your income, home or car, or your job. But evidence shows that what we do and the way we think have the biggest impact on well-being.
Professor Williams says that mindfulness can be an antidote to the ‘tunnel vision’ that can develop in our daily lives, especially when we are busy, stressed or tired.
‘It’s easy to stop noticing the world around us. It’s also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living in our heads – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour,’ he says.
‘Most of us have issues that we find hard to let go and mindfulness can help us deal with them more productively. We can ask: “Is trying to solve this by brooding about it helpful, or am I just getting caught up in my thoughts?”
‘Awareness of this kind also helps us notice signs of stress or anxiety earlier and helps us deal with them better.’
Studies have found that mindfulness programmes, where participants are taught mindfulness practices across a series of weeks, can bring about reductions in stress and improvements in mood.
Research also shows that moderate exercise can help reduce levels of stress in the body.
A Dutch study of almost 20,000 people found that ‘exercisers were on average less anxious, depressed, and neurotic, more extroverted, and were higher in dimensions of sensation seeking than non-exercisers. These differences were modest in size, but very consistent across gender and age.’
But if you prefer to rely on your smartphone for support in all areas of your life, there are a series of apps that will help you make and keep your New Year’s resolutions. For example, download apps that will help you get healthy by keeping a track of the junk foods you consume.
The year is young and full of potential. Don’t let Janxiety get you off on the wrong foot. Make it your belated but realistic New Year resolution to beat it and make the most of what 2016 has to offer.