The 5 Best Ways to Beat the January Blues


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Happy 2018!

2017 was... interesting (to put it nicely), and I can't deny that I'm looking forward to a fresh start, with 12 whole months of possibilities ahead. That being said, January is always a bit of a tough month for me. For some people, there's the excitement of a fresh start, the glow of the coming year's opportunities, and I want to embrace all of those things too, but more often than not, it's just stressful. The beginning of January often comes with a mix of make-it-the-best-year-ever pressure and it's-ages-before-my-favorite-season (autumn) rolls around again. 

Like many people, January often finds me either fretting about what I didn't do in the previous year or worrying about all that's yet to come. Plus, the holidays are over, the days are short, dark, and often gloomy, and it's cold. It's not the greatest month for a lot of us, but that doesn't mean we can't do our best to stay as positively present as possible! 

Here are some of the tactics I'll be using this month to try tackling those January blues. All of these I've tried before and they've really helped me ward off the doom-and-gloom of the new year. Hopefully they'll help you too! 

 

ACCEPT THE DOWN-AND-OUT VIBES

When it comes to dealing with a difficult situation — no matter what it is! — the first step is acceptance. If you try to pretend you're not struggling or you try to push away the sad or stressed emotions, they'll come back even worse (and often in unpredictable and bizarre ways!). If you're not feeling the "new year, new me!" vibes, don't worry — you're not alone. It's a challenging time for a lot of people, and the first step to making it easier is recognizing that it's okay not to feel super excited and optimistic about the year ahead. Twelve months is a long time, and you don't have to be jumping for joy on day one. Allow yourself to feel how you feel, and try your best not to judge yourself or tell yourself that you "should" feel a certain way. You feel how you feel, and that's perfectly okay. 

 

DO SOMETHING YOU PUT OFF LAST YEAR

Part of the not-so-great feelings that can come along on January 1 involve believing that you didn't accomplish everything you wanted to last year. You've probably heard about the high failure rates for new year's resolutions so if you didn't get all of your bad habits under control last year, you're not alone. You can't change everything that happened last year, but you can take a positive action right now. Think of one thing you could do right this month (today even!) that you wanted to do last year. It doesn't have to be something big — could be cleaning out a closet, donating some old clothes, writing an email to an old friend, visiting a museum you've been wanting to check out — but pick something and do it. It'll make you feel good, and it'll set a positive, proactive tone for the year ahead. 

 

START A NEW (POSITIVE!) DAILY HABIT

I know, I know — this is the most cliched new year advice in the world, but for the past few years I've started doing Yoga with Adriene's 30 Day Yoga Journey and it's been amazing for me. Working out is hard (especially if you're not a fan, like me) and this is an easy way for me to get into a routine without too much effort since I can do it at home anytime I want. Plus, because she's been doing these for a few years, I start a old video series in February and it keeps me on track for a few months. It apparently takes about two weeks to start a habit so why not incorporate something into your daily routine now? It doesn't have to be a major shift (sometimes that whole "resolution" concept feels daunting!), but doing something (however small!) new on a daily basis will give you a nice little focus for upcoming gloomy month.  

 

KEEP YOUR HOME FESTIVELY HYGGE

Last year after Christmas, I decided I was going to leave up the lights all year 'round. I'd decorated my bookshelves and windows with them and I knew that taking them down was one of the hardest bits of post-Christmas de-decorating because it meant a lot of the light would be taken out of the room. Keeping up lights always seemed too college-dorm-room to me, but once I decided to embrace them, it was kinda awesome. I generally don't use them much in the warmer months, but they keep my place feeling cozy and hygge-like all winter long. Lights might not be your thing, but try to do something at home that'll keep you feeling cozy and uplifted throughout the darkest months of the year. Even a little thing can have a big impact on your mood!

 

MAKE A STAY-THE-SAME RESOLUTION

Years ago, I wrote New Year, Same Me: 6 Stay-the-Same Resolutions, and I think about it every year when all of the articles and blog posts on making and keeping new year's resolutions start popping up everywhere. There's always so much focus on what we want to change and what we hope for in the year ahead (or reflections on what happened the year before), and most people don't pause to think about what they want to stay the same in the upcoming months. Resolutions might work for some people, but I personally find them frustratingly ineffective. Since I wrote that post back in 2010, I've found it a lot more useful to think about what worked well in the previous year and direct my focus to creating more of that in my life. Instead of focusing on what you don't want to be (or don't feel you are), try zeroing in on what's working about you and your life, and it's sure to make January a bit more joyful (and perhaps a little less judgmental, too!). 

 

If you're struggling right now, don't forget: you're not alone. A lot of us have a hard time during this time of year, and the best thing you can do is do what you can to make the most of it. Hopefully these tips will provide some inspiration for the weeks to come, but if you're really feeling down and can't seem to shake the January blues, I highly recommend seeking advice from a professional. Therapy (and light therapy!) can work wonders for the toughest time of the year. 

 

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Play the Hand You're Dealt : Life Lessons from Solitaire


Positively-Present-Solitaire

 

Whenever I'm super stressed and anxious (particularly when I have upcoming doctor's visits or surgeries scheduled), I've noticed that I tend to turn to games like Solitaire, Scrabble, and Boggle. Unlike zoning out with a show or YouTube video, games keep my mind engaged and I have to be paying attention to them (instead of my nagging anxiety-ridden thoughts). I'm actually in a bit of a Scrabble phase right now, but for a good chunk of 2017, I was all about Solitaire. 


And, of course, being me (creator of this fine site that you're reading today, haha), I started noticing some good life lessons as I was playing — and there ended up being a lot more than I would've imagined! 


You can be dealt a bad hand, and still end up winning. You can be dealt a great hand, and still end up losing. 


There's strategy involved, but also a heck of a lot of luck in what cards you're dealt.


You can't focus only on the card you need now; you have to look at the whole game.

Playing a card the first time you see it isn't always the right move. 


You — and only you — are in charge of what you do with the cards you've been dealt.


Sometimes you take winning for granted. More often than not, it's pretty anticlimactic.


A high score is nice, but it's better when you play for the joy of it.

You've got to play the cards you're dealt, whether you like them or not. (Though you can start a new game at any time.)

When you don't rush while playing, you make a lot fewer mistakes. 


Sometimes you know you're going lose, but you just keep playing. (You usually shouldn't.)


If you look, you'll find patterns, but if you're not paying attention, it'll seem like random chaos.


You often lose when you have too many of the same color or number; sameness doesn't win. 


Pay attention how you feel when you win or lose. Your reactions aren't always what you'd expect.


One card can change everything. You can be on the verge of losing, and draw a game-changing card.


I thought about writing more details for each point, but I'm guessing you can figure out how these lessons might apply in real life. (And if you can't, dig deeper — you're just as wise as I am!) And if you haven't played Solitaire (or any other game) in awhile, I highly recommend giving it a try. It can give you mind a break from the incessant thinking (or is that just me?!), while not allowing it to completely zone out, the way it might do with endless Netflix episodes or some other candy-like brain food. If you already are a fellow Solitaire-lover, did I miss any lessons? Anything you've noticed while playing? 

 

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The Benefits of Pets in Recovery

 Positively-Present-Recovery-Pets
Artwork inspired by FreehandMagic on Instagram and Etsy

 

Over the couple of weeks, I've been recovering from surgery, and, though it ended up being a relatively easy process compared to others I've had, it's still never a fun experience. (Though, to be fair, playing Scrabble with my mom while watching Hallmark Christmas movies was pretty enjoyable!).

Recovery in the physical sense it tough, and I've made it a little bit more challenging on myself by diving into Russell Brand's amazing book, Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions, while in rest-up mode. The book is so good — I'd recommend it to anyone, even those who don't have substance abuse issues — but it's definitely put me on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. (One of the highs: seeing my pup, Barkley, featured on Russell's Instagram page!)

As I've been working through physical and emotional pain, I've discovered one incredibly beneficial resource that I don't read about often enough: my dog. Studies have show that pet ownership, or just being in the presence of a companion animal, is associated with health benefits, including improvements in mental, social, and physiologic health status. Animals can have a majorly positive impact on our lives, but my awareness of this impact seems to be heightened when it comes to recovery of any kind. 

Recovery, of course, requires assistance from humans, too, but there's something different and powerful about the presence of an animal. Here are some of the benefits I've experienced, in both physical and substance-related recovery, as a result of having a dog in my life: 

 

COMFORT

Probably the most basic of all recovery benefits is the comfort spending time with an animal brings. It's been shown that playing with or petting a pet can help lower oxytocin levels in the brain, which helps you feel more relaxed and less stressed — two factors that definitely help with the anxiety that comes with any kind of recovery. Most of us who have pets know that petting an  animal is calming, and it's also been shown to help keep blood pressure levels lower. Pets also offer physical warmth. I've noticed that warmth — a cozy blanket, clothes fresh out of the dryer, a cup of tea, a soothing bath, or the snuggly body of a pet — really helps with my anxiety. Just feeling the warm pressure of a pup leaning against you (as Barkley is right now as I'm writing this!) can provide additional comfort. 

 

HONESTY

This one tends to apply a bit more to substance recovery, but the benefit is actually pretty universal for anyone who struggles with emotions (who doesn't?!). The great thing about pets is: they can't hide their emotions. When they're afraid or distraught, we know it (especially if we know them well!), and they, in turn, are often tuned into our emotions. This offers a two-fold benefit: (1) they can be a barometer we can use to assess how we're feeling because they'll often mirror our emotional states, and (2) they can inspire us to be more emotionally honest. Many of us (even those without substance abuse histories) try to numb or avoid our emotions, but, through the help of our pets, we can learn that recognizing and expressing emotions doesn't have to be so challenging. (The resistance to feelings is actually way more painful in the end!)

 

COMPASSION

Many animals are able to show compassion for those in emotional or physical pain. Anyone who's had a dog lick her face while she's crying knows that, while pups might not understand complex human emotions, they do appear to understand our feelings in some and often do what they can with their limited communication abilities to convey compassion and even empathy. This compassion can also be easier for some people to accept than the compassion from fellow humans. If you're feeling frustrated by your condition or even envious of those who can do things you cannot (i.e., walking post-surgery or drinking casually without self-destruction), accepting compassion from others can be challenging. With pets, there's no comparison or complex emotional acceptance involved when compassion is offered. The simplicity of it makes it easier to embrace. 

 

SELFLESSNESS

When in recovery of any kind, it can be challenging not to become at least a little self-absorbed. You're in pain and pain's an attention-seeking type of thing. It demands to be felt and attended to, which can lead to some selfish tendencies. While, of course, it's important to attend to pain, focusing too much on it can be dangerous. Pets can take us out of this me-focused mindset because they have many needs they can't attend to on their own — like food, walks, etc. Self-care and self-reflection are important in recovery of any kind, but having a little creature that needs you can be a useful tool for remembering that, despite your pain, the world doesn't (and shouldn't!) revolve around you. Pets give you a purpose, which can be a very big morale boost when you're in a difficult physical or emotional state. 

 

MINDFULNESS

I've written about this countless times before, but pets are such good motivators for staying in the moment. Animals can certainly think about the future and the past, but they tend not to dwell on them the way us humans do. When it recovery, we can learn so much from paying attention to how animals are just able to be. They have the benefit of not having some of the complexities that come with the human brain and, while we might not ever to be able to reach their level of supreme mindfulness, paying attention to how they pay attention be a positively transformative experience. Engaging in certain activities with them (like playing fetch, for example) can also offer opportunities to practice being in the moment. 

 

COMPANIONSHIP

One of the greatest challenges in recovery is the sense of isolation one is likely to feel. Even if you're fortunate enough to have great people around you (thanks, Mom and Dad, for taking care of me!), you're still likely to feel lonely and adrift at times. Other people cannot be by your side 24/7 (nor would you probably want them to be!), but a pet can often be with you most of the time, providing companionship that can ease feelings of loneliness or isolation. While family and friends can provide love and support, unconditional love in the face of recovery can sometimes lead to enabling behavior. Human companionship, no matter how wonderful, is always a bit complex. With pets, it's simple: they love you no matter who you are or what you do, and they don't in any way use that love to enable any behaviors. 

 

SOCIABILITY 

Pets not only give you social interaction with them (no, it's not a substitute for human interaction, but it's still nice), they also give you motivation to get up and socialize with others. (Note: this might just apply to dogs, unless you have a leash for your cat, in which case you're either awesome or have an awesome cat.) When you're in pain (and particularly if you're introverted by nature), getting out and about while in recovery can be hard. If you're physically recovering, you might not really feel up to showcasing your ailment to the world. If it's an emotional kind of recovery, you might feel hesitant or unready to get out and about. But taking a dog for a walk and encountering neighbors can be a simple but effective way to slowly get back to your old self. At the very least, it gets you outside for some fresh air, which I'm pretty sure is good for all kinds of recovery! 

 

PLAYFULNESS

When you're in recovery of any kind, playing isn't really at the forefront of your mind, but pets can bring out a liveliness in you that you didn't realize was there. In general, most adult humans don't do enough playing (at least in my opinion!), and that's one thing pets can be really good at. Playing can have many emotional and cognitive benefits, and even if it's just a short session of tossing the ball or tugging at toy, playing with a pet can really boost your mood — which is a wonderful thing when you're in recovery and might be struggling emotionally. Play also gets you up and moving a bit, which can be beneficial when you either don't feel like (or physically can't) exercise. More endorphins = more healthy mood boosters! 

 

If you're going through any kind of recovery, I hope you have the opportunity to spend time with animals, even if just for a little while. There's something magical about the way they live, and, while it might seem like their lives are simple compared to ours, there's a lot we humans can learn from our four-legged friends. And there are certainly many ways we can benefit from their presence in our lives. If you don't have a pet in your life, you can always check out the adventures (and book recommendations!) of Barkley the Morkie on Instagram! And if you can think of any additional benefits (or even some helpful recovery tips), feel free to leave them in the comments below!  

    

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