January can be the hardest month for many people and it is normal to feel a little down at this time of the year. The combination of harsh weather, long evenings, and the lingering aftermath of the festive period collide to create the ‘January Blues’. This manifests itself as feelings of sadness, low mood, lack of motivation, and tiredness.
On top of all of this, we are still navigating through a pandemic and adapting to current situations. The past year has been challenging but it showed us that despite the uncertainty we are resilient and in the middle of chaos we can bring compassion. This year, instead of giving into the ‘January Blues”, let’s beat the blues! Here are VOYA’s tips for giving yourself the best start to 2022.
Let the sunshine in
Not getting enough daylight has been shown to decrease our happiness. Exposure to natural light increases the level of serotonin in the brain, which is associated with improved mood. Try to get outside in nature for fresh air during your lunch break or in the morning. When at work or home make sure the rooms are bright by opening all curtains and using natural spectrum light bulbs. If necessary, get a light therapy lamp that mimics outdoor light.
We receive 90% of our Vitamin D from sunlight and during the darker months, it is important to keep your levels up. A daily supplement, in addition to a healthy diet, is a small change that makes all the difference. Sea Ór supplements contain 20mcg of Vitamin D2 and is 400% of the Nutrient Reference Value.
Nourish your body
Eating a variety of fresh and seasonal foods is one of the simplest ways to achieve greater health. The more colours the better! As each colour brings different nutrient benefits that are packed with vitamins and minerals. To find out what fruits and vegetables are in season, click here
Your chance of dehydration actually increases during the colder months. Since people don't feel as thirsty when the temperature drops, many forget to drink enough water. Beverages like coffee, hot chocolate or fizzy drinks don’t help with hydration, and actually can dehydrate the body. The human body is made up of over 70 percent water and regular hydration is essential for everything from maintaining a healthy weight to energy levels and flushing toxins out of the body. You should try to drink between half an ounce and an ounce of water for each pound you weigh, every day.
Give permission to pace yourself when you are feeling like you need to slow down to preserve your energy. Just as it is a vital part of the natural cycles of nature, winter is a time of going within knowing that the fertile spring is around the corner. This time of reflection is meant to nourish and renew us for a successful year ahead. When we skip this transition process for our bodies, we can feel depleted, exhausted, and often sick. Rest assure that your energy for new growth and action-taking lies just beyond the bend, when the weather warms up the seeds will sprout.
Prioritise good quality sleep
Sleep plays an essential role in both health and wellbeing throughout our life. A regular bedtime routine will support your body and mind to unwind. Include an hour of quiet time before bed such as reading, journaling having a bath, meditation, or listening to music. Try to reduce screen time to let your brain switch off. Creating a self-care ritual will help you get the most out of your rest. Surround yourself with calming scents using a pillow spray or room spray. Sip on camomile tea, light a candle, get comfy and be present in the moment as you prepare for a peaceful slumber.
Movement through physical activity helps us feel better, function better, sleep better and reduce the risk of many chronic diseases. Regular exercise has been proven to reduce stress by releasing endorphins which give your body a positive feeling of happiness. Even if it is just gentle or moderate activities like jogging, yoga, or even a brief walk is enough to uplift your mood.
Cold Sea Swimming
If you are brave to take the plunge with a cold dip, you will reap the benefits. Entering cold water like in the Irish Sea or Atlantic Ocean causes an explosion of adrenaline, as the body uses it to compensate as its own pain reliever. It improves your lymphatic circulation, relieves sore muscles, reduces inflammation, and helps you stay in shape by jump-starting your metabolism.
No matter how strong a swimmer you, be smart and safe by the sea particularly in the colder months. Wrap up warm as soon as you get out of the water. Only go to marketed bathing areas and bring a buddy or notify your local coast guard. Even better, join one of the many social sea-swimming groups around the country. With groups for beginners aimed at those who want to enjoy a gentle dip or for the dedicated vigorous swimmers. They bring together a fantastic sense of community with people of all ages and backgrounds. The salty sea chats will soothe your soul.
Beat the blues with a blue mind
Humans have a deep connection between water and happiness. There is scientific evidence which shows that being in, on, or by the water gives us physical and psychological benefits. This is called the ‘blue mind’ and it is a mildly meditative state our brains enter when exposed to water. When you hear water or see water it triggers a response in the brain that drops cortisol levels and releases feel-good hormones such as dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. You can get it by being in the water through swimming, you can get it by being under the water when free diving, you can get it from walking by a sea or lake, sometimes you can even get it by looking at pictures of water. It's a big blue reset button that washes away the stress.
Over the last 18 months, breath-work has become very trendy due to its natural calming effect on the mind and body. Breath-work is a term for various breathing practices in which the conscious control of breathing is said to influence a person's mental, emotional or physical state, with a claimed therapeutic effect. When you take a deep breath right down into your lower abdomen, your heart rate quickens slightly. As you exhale slowly your heart rate slows down. By focusing on taking five or six slow deep breaths, your heart rate and your breath will synchronise, signalling to your brain to release the feel-good hormones. Practise deep abdominal breathing often during the day or any time you notice yourself feeling stressed to boost your serotonin!
We interviewed Claire Walsh, VOYA Ambassador and Irish freedriver, some who holds their breath underwater, to share her nuggets of wisdom and tips for breath-work. Claire spends most of her time by the sea and has a national record for holding her breath under water. Breath-work, mindfulness and relaxation techniques are key elements of this sport.
The art of breathing has led Claire to a lifetime of study and work. A background in theatre, a curiosity in movement, not so much a love of singing as a need to sing and a grá for the sea has served as perfect playgrounds to explore the possibilities and potential of breath in it’s many creative forms. Through her mission to better understand how breath-work influences the mind, voice, body and spirit; she has uncovered specialist ways to not only enhance her own performance but her way of living, informing the methods for teaching others how to do the same. Claire has been an ambassador with VOYA since 2019 and brings her favourite products in her travel bag all around the world.
Kateryna with VOYA's PR & Marketing team met up with Claire for a Sunday stroll by Bray Beach in Dublin. Watch the video or read below the interview where Claire explains how using your breath and the rhythm of the waves can increase self awareness and invoke a sense of calm.
Kateryna: I am at Bray beach and it's a beautiful day in January. We're going to talk about all things ocean and mindfulness with Claire Walsh. Claire can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Claire: I'm a VOYA ambassador and have been since 2019. A lot of people might know me as a freediver which means I hold my breath underwater but in my day-to-day life I live by the sea, I swim or try to swim every day, and I spend as much time as I can near it, in it or under it.
Kateryna: Wow that's a lot! What is your relationship with the ocean? How does it make you feel?
Claire: I don't know if there'll be enough time to even cover that but for me, the sea feels like home, the sea feels like coming home, it feels like stillness and comfort and I am very respectful of it because it can you know change but the sea yeah it's home that's what it is: it's home.
I've been really lucky I've done so much traveling for freediving when I go away and I see those crystal clear waters yeah it's nice but I get really homesick for Irish waters. It's a little bit rougher, it's colder, it's more raw but my god it's beautiful so that's what certainly the Irish sea is for me.
Kateryna: Can you explain to the audience about free driving for those who don't know?
Claire: Yeah so freediving is the sport of holding your breath underwater so it can be measured in three different ways: in time, in the distance, and then in-depth. I think that's where the passion is for a lot of the freedivers because that's done in open water. By lying on the surface of the water, holding your breath and going down as deep as you can then back up on one breath.
Kateryna: Wow and what do you feel when you hold your breath for that long? What does your body go through is it calming or is it terrifying?
Claire: Yeah all of those things! There's an element of it being exhilarating, exciting, terrifying but there's also amazing stillness and if you have a good dive where things just line up at work it is absolutely incredible it is so still and you feel connected mind and body. It is just such the most amazing culmination of feelings and I always think it's the closest I'll ever get to flying.
Kateryna: How does breath-work benefit you on your day-to-day out-of-the-sea living?
Claire: I love to freedive. I spend free time planning my next trip but a lot of the time I'm here in Ireland and you don't just forget those skills. For me, the idea is to take those skills and apply them to day-to-day life and a lot of what I teach is how we can use different techniques that are used in freediving to benefit our day-to-day life. A lot of that comes down to having an awareness of how you breathe. Being conscious of our breathing and how we can use that to ground ourselves.
It creates better body awareness and combats any sort of anxiety or stressful situations that we encounter from the day-to-day stuff. Obviously, that spectrum can be quite big but I think taking a couple of minutes every day and I'm talking about three to five minutes every day. It is not too much to do. For me, I put on a piece of music or I listen to this (waves in the background) and spending that time at that moment in your breath, in your body-mind, in your presence. That's probably one of the biggest gifts and skills that I've kind of cultivated from freediving.
Kateryna: so you will put on maybe wave music and listen to it?
Claire: I don't put on wave sound music, I come down to get the real thing!
Kateryna: yeah and they say that when the water moves back and forward it could be like our lungs taking in the breath. If you can mimic it, go with the flow there's calmness.
Claire: There's a natural rhythm there that is accessible to us all. That kind of idea of stressful breathing that we might be familiar with is short and shallow quite quick but if you listen to it you'll know it's a very natural rhythm. If you start to follow it, it will naturally just slow things down. You know it's right behind me but it has such a calming and soothing effect. It just grounds you.
Kateryna: This is all lovely when you're here and you're beside the ocean but say if you're about to go into a stressful meeting or you're panicked or nervous about something can you share some tips that people can do in that situation that it could be done quietly that doesn't draw attention.
Claire: I'm laughing because one example comes straight to my mind so you know when you log on to a zoom call and it says you're in the waiting room. You're waiting for the host to let you in. Whether it's an interview or a meeting or whatever it is, I always get that oh it's starting! it's starting! it's starting! so you just feel it. Your heart rate quickens and I get a little spike of nerves.
I try and take that moment to just bring it down. I breathe in through my nose. I make sure that I'm switching bringing it into my nose that I'm breathing low into my body and I'm breathing slowly. I just use a little bit of a count to make sure that my breath is slowed down so as I do this I try to feel the seat underneath me or the back of the chair. I'm putting myself back into the space as opposed to going up my head. Thinking is my camera on you know that kind of spiralling thought. It's the opposite. It's just trying to come back into my body. Feeling the arms of the chair or feeling my breath in my body whatever that kind of tactile cue might be to remind the breath to come lower and slower into the body then the host lets you in and you're fantastic!
Claire: January typically is a little bit of a lower month so my own to-do list is to stay a little bit more grounded, stay out of my head, and find those pockets of calm throughout the day. Then build upon that whether that's coming down for a walk, going for a swim, or doing a couple of minutes breathing. Just adding things to my tool bag that will help my mood. Dotting them throughout my day to bring my stress levels down a little bit.
Kateryna: This has been really informative and a great day out thank you so much for your time if anyone wants to find out more about Claire: where are you at?