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How to stay calm and contented in January by relationship counsellor and author Cat Williams

In January we can often feel low for all kinds of different reasons - perhaps because it is a cold and dark time of year, because the fun of Christmas and New Year is over, because our festive period was not as pleasant as we might have wished, or we might feel overweight or unfit, or have relationship, work or financial worries.

However, January is an ideal time to reflect on our lives, to think about the past year, and to plan for the new one. If we use the 'January blues' rather than fight them, then we can make them work for us, rather than against us.

  • First, we need to be gentle with ourselves. It is quite natural to feel a bit low at this time of year; we are not alone. We shouldn't criticise ourselves for how we feel, but choose how we respond to our feelings. We need to be aware that others around us are likely to be experiencing similar feelings, and being gentle and understanding towards them is also important. Showing kindness to them is likely to bring us some of the support we might need at this time of year.
  • Ask yourself what lies behind the way you are feeling. It is not always as easy as you might think to find the true underlying reason. Find a 30 minute slot when you can spend time away from everyone else and ask yourself the following questions - ideally talk out loud, as if you are talking to a concerned and trusted friend. How do you feel Christmas and New Year went? Who or what made you feel good over the past few weeks, or months, and who or what didn't? Who or what is making you feel negative about yourself at the moment? What do you really want this year? What do you think would make you happier? Are your desires realistic and based on your own beliefs and values, or are you picking up expectations from other people, and putting pressure on yourself to meet them?
    Wanting to significantly change ourselves, or wanting something different to 'make us happy' is unlikely to work. We can be happy just as we are if we can accept that we are already good enough. Working on changing our opinion of ourselves might be where we need to start, rather than trying to change who we actually are, or what we do, or have.
    Negative emotions are generated when our self-esteem has been lowered for some reason. There are no 'negative' events unless they threaten our self-worth, self-respect, or self-confidence in some way. If we can learn to understand how and when our self-esteem is affected, and why we feel stressed, angry, depressed, jealous or anxious then we will be able to see more clearly how to understand our emotions, and be more in control of the thoughts or actions which might result from them. If we don't think carefully about the real cause for our drop in self-esteem then we might focus on the wrong thing. We often embark on new diets, hobbies or exercise regimes in January, hoping to feel better about ourselves. If the real reason we feel low is because of a relationship or work problem, for example, then we might be focusing our time and energy on something which is not the main issue, and so the benefit to our self-esteem might only be short-term.
  • When you have thought about what or who is negatively affecting your self-worth or self-confidence at the moment, then you can decide what to do about it. We cannot change anyone else, only ourselves. If you cannot avoid the person or situation at the root of the problem, then how can you improve your self-esteem when you are in that person's company? Can someone else give you self-esteem, or take it away, or are you in control of how you feel about yourself, and therefore how you choose to speak or behave? Have you sometimes behaved in a negative way towards yourself or others in order to feel better about yourself (for example, we may overeat or drink or criticise others when we need to feel better about ourselves). What positive things could you do to increase your self-esteem before or during the situation which you find difficult? How you dress, who is with you, or how you have prepared for the situation may all make a difference.
  • Instant self-esteem. This technique has been found to be useful anywhere and at anytime, even under very difficult circumstances.
    Close your eyes. Imagine that a warm, golden light begins to pour onto and into your head from above you and that it fills you up until it starts to pour out through your fingers and toes. You feel warm and bright, and you feel happy just because you are. You arrived at birth with this golden light within you; it is your self-worth. You are OK. Your challenge is to maintain this feeling deep within you, no matter what happens to you in life, and to know that nothing and no one can extinguish it.
  • Communication: Effective communication is likely to hold the key to improving a relationship which might be bothering you, but what exactly is good communication? I describe good communication as be able to explain clearly to someone else what is going on with our self-esteem, i.e. where our emotions are coming from, rather than simply expressing the raw emotions we might be feeling. Saying 'I feel' rather than 'You are making me feel' is preferable because 'You are making me feel' is likely to make the other person feel criticised and inclined to defend themselves, rather than encouraging them to listen to you. No-one can make us feel anything we don't consent to, so first we must acknowledge that our feelings are our own, and that they are not created by someone else. It is unrealistic to think that we can avoid unpleasant emotions like anger, hurt, stress and anxiety, but we can learn to understand and handle them better. When we are expressing our feelings, thoughts or opinions it is important to avoid phrases like 'You should...' or 'You ought to...' because these words imply that your opinion is more valid than the other person's opinion and they imply criticism. If another person is accustomed to hearing criticism from you or others, he or she may hear criticism no matter what you say or how you say it. In this case try to be clear that you are expressing your feelings and opinions, but that you want to hear the other person's as well, because his or her feelings are just as valid and important.
    Learning to listen well is much harder than talking, but it is the vital other half of effective communication. If we have a difficult relationship with someone then they are affecting our self-esteem at the moment, and we are very likely to be affecting theirs as well. One of the best (but often one of the hardest) things we can do is to ask them thoughtful open questions and listen carefully to the answers. Open questions begin with what, where, how, why, and when, and they are called open questions because they cannot be answered 'yes' or 'no'. True communication involves focusing on listening more than talking, we have to want to understand others if we are going to have a good relationship with them, and we have to be willing to try to explain ourselves as clearly as we can without blaming others for how we feel.

Cat Williams is a relationship counsellor, and author of 'Stay Calm and Content No Matter What Life Throws At You' - a book which aims to show you how to stay calm and content in any circumstances. The book covers a wide range of potentially difficult situations including stress, relationships, motherhood, parenting, work problems, extra-marital affairs, divorce, bullying, depression and more.

'Stay Calm and Content No Matter What Life Throws At You' is published by AuthorHouse at £9.95

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