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Depression

22 January 2019

5 strategies for when you feel overwhelmed by the new year

Struggling to find momentum or motivation for the year ahead? An expert provides tips on how to cope.

Many South Africans and others across the world experienced 2018 as a tumultuous and uncertain year. New Year is traditionally a time for renewed energy, positive thoughts and intentions, but the emerging 2019 may not automatically be filled with hope and vigour. We have put the old year behind us, but are we steaming ahead into the new one believing that everything is going to be better?

Somatic psychologist and best-selling author of The Mindful Body, Noa Belling, takes a different view. According to Noa, we can certainly forge ahead into 2019 with the optimism, energy and motivation to make it an excellent year for ourselves and those around us. In The Mindful Body, Noa presents practical, quick and easy strategies to build emotional strength and manage stress through body mindfulness. Here are her top tips to find the energy to face 2019 and ensure that it is a year of personal fulfilment and achievement.

1. Enforce a positive mindset, no matter what

“Each time a new year begins it can bring with it a sense of hope and renewed possibility that we can lean into."

Body awareness or body mindfulness can help with inflicting positivity. For example, when we are negative, we tend to constrict, tense up and hold our breath or perhaps fall into lethargy. A simple postural shift, like righting our posture, opening our chests, allowing ourselves a good few deep breaths and holding our heads up high can trick our brains into more positivity, even if we have to "fake it" at times. 

2. Build resilience

Resilience is made up of a number of moments of facing our stresses with qualities like courage and confidence. How can we build our courage and confidence to face our daily stresses? Power poses can be helpful here. Harvard research by Amy Cuddy has shown that when we puff up or open our chest and shoulders, encouraging ourselves us to stand tall and proud, it raises our confidence hormone, testosterone, and lowers our stress and anxiety hormone, cortisol.

"Next time you need a courage and confidence boost, take a two minute break to practice standing tall and proud, with arms wherever feels best, such as on your waist like Wonder Woman, or with elbows open and hands behind your head. Let your breathing be comfortable and feel grounded through your feet too to help maximise the calm, grounded confidence effect that this pose can have.”

3. Take control of anxiety

“A hand to the heart or even a few fingers to the chest – whatever feels best in the moment, can be helpful here. When you do that, it is natural to want to take a spontaneous deep breath, which can be helpful too," says Noa. 

Fear and anxiety can cause tightness in our body, often centred in our chest, throat and solar plexus areas. A hand on the chest can naturally soften these areas in a matter of seconds. This is aided by the almost instant increase of oxytocin levels through touch. Oxytocin is our snuggle or cuddle hormone, which helps us feel more intimately connected with ourselves and others. It can remind us of self-care and can wake up compassion in us that we can direct as we choose. It is also a feel-good hormone that counteracts stress hormones.

In other words, our feel-good levels tend to go up and our fear and anxiety levels down, allowing our brains to function better.

"When anxiety creeps up on you, place a couple of fingers or a hand to your chest and allow your breathing to become fuller. To make this even more effective, add a small smile (even if you feel you are faking it) and think of something or someone that makes you happy. Hold onto this gesture, the smile and the happy memory for as long as you can, or for at least 30 seconds, and notice the effect it has on you. Then apply your mind, heart and attention to whatever you need or wish to.”

4. Keep up the momentum

“Get moving in whatever way works best for you! It could be through your exercise of choice or in the moment it could be loosening up your posture, aligning your posture to feel comfortable and uplifted and placing a smile on your face. This can keep oxygen and energy flowing throughout our body and mind to keep us feeling alert and alive. As mentioned earlier, changing our posture can also change our mind, mood and outlook towards greater positivity."  

There is also a version of the power pose that can be used on the spot for a boost in energy and positivity. It is called the Victory Pose. Stand with your feet well-grounded and reach your arms and fingers up high to the sky. Breathing evenly and perhaps deeper than usual but comfortably, hold this pose for one or two minutes. You can start your day in this energising way or you can use it on the spot when you can for a quick mood lift. 

Any time we set out to accomplish a task and complete it, it tends to give us a dopamine rush. Dopamine gives us a rush of motivation, excitement, positivity and energy. Accomplish smaller tasks by making a list and ticking them off as you go. It may also make bigger goals seem less daunting when you break them up into smaller units. 

5. Connect to others

“There is nothing that can beat contact with our special people. Focused, connected time with others is a powerful antidote to feelings of isolation or polarisation. As humans we are social animals wired to respond well to sincere and caring contact with other people.

"Phone or message a friend to revive connections instantly. Make concrete plans to meet up. From board games to deep and meaningful conversations, or sharing sporting activities or spending time together in nature, shared activities knit us into a wonderful sense of connection with each other. It is so important to make the time.”

In conclusion, Noa reminds us that 2019 is like every New Year, full of challenges and opportunities.  How we experience it will be up to us as individuals. “We are completely in charge of whether we open our hearts more and make more time for the important people and causes in our lives,” she says, “Each of us can make good use of the two-way channel between mind and body, so that we choose wisely when to stretch ourselves and when we might need rest and recuperation to avoid burnout and replenish our energy.  To help us we might ask ourselves this question from time to time: “What might be helpful to me now to open to greater fulfilment in 2019?”

Disclaimer: Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety should always be addressed by a medical professional. While coping strategies are important, you should always contact a doctor or professional if necessary. If you feel that your anxiety or depression is out of control and your current treatment plan no longer helps, contact your doctor or psychiatrist immediately to re-evaluate current treatment and to help you find a new strategy. Then you can start practising measures such as mindfulness to aid your mental wellbeing and get the best out of the new year. 

Image credit: iStock