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Why February is the new January

24th January 2022 Posted by

Blog by Dr Tracey Leghorn, Chief Human Resources and Health and Safety Officer, SUEZ recycling and recovery UK.

As I wish you the best for 2022, you may think I’m a bit late. After all, January will soon be over. But then, so too are many new year resolutions.

There are various reasons for that, not least our self-delusion that the start of a new calendar year should somehow mark, or make, new beginnings and facilitate life-changing self-improvement.

It may seem surprising, but some fitness and life coaches won’t take on new clients in January. Because they know post-Christmas commitments tend to come from wishful thinking rather than a carefully considered, viable plan.

And it seems February rather than January is a better time anyway to put our plans into action. My SUEZ colleagues and I are indebted to Sue Judge, a life coach and nutritionist, for this insight, which she shared in our most recent Wellness for All Webinar.

The webinar’s theme was Resilience. As Sue reminded us, resilience isn’t a given, it’s not fixed, and cannot be taken for granted. Also, at this time of year, our levels of resilience can be lower than normal.

Short days, long dark evenings, cold and damp weather don’t help. As mammals in the northern hemisphere, we’re more naturally suited to hibernation than action; (so I felt less guilty about jibbing out of that Zumba class on a cold and wet Tuesday evening earlier this month). Then there’s the pandemic and its associated changes, uncertainties and anxieties, which have sapped resilience and impacted the mental health of many.

January is widely acknowledged as the most depressing time of the year, so we should forgive ourselves a touch of the ‘January Blues’.

Resilience and our capacity to change (and deal with change, and other forms of stress) are inter-related. And they both benefit from self-care. The term may sound fluffy, but it is a responsibility we owe ourselves and those who depend on us to keep checks on our own welfare, so we’re able to withstand the shocks that life throws at us.

Stress in small, controlled doses shouldn’t do us any harm. Indeed, a challenge that encourages you to step outside your comfort zone can reveal your true abilities, just as a pressing deadline may boost your concentration and productivity (whether it’s getting that report done in time or cleaning the house before a guest arrives) – and your satisfaction.

The problems arise when stress, worry, pressure or other negative feelings are persistent or out of control so that our underpinning resilience is eroded. We’re in danger of toppling like a tree with shallow or diseased roots when a storm blows.

Change and uncertainty at work and in business can generate intense stress for people at all levels of an organisation. The pandemic added a new dimension, unleashing waves of anxiety and disruption that we hadn’t experienced before.

However, for many, working from home and these other new realities served as a reminder of the need for and value of self-care. Some discovered the benefits of regular outdoor exercise, nature walks or gardening. Others rediscovered a neglected pastime, or now make a conscious effort to carve out ‘me time’– reading, meditating or catching up with special friends.

Almost two years on, some of us have lost that focus and may be sliding back into old habits. Our programme of webinars was designed in the first instance to bolster the wellbeing and mental health of our people at such a stressful time. It also signposted and provided support and tips on self-care. And we are continuing the programme as a reminder to people and to reinforce the new habits that enhance their physical and mental health.

The webinars address the priorities chosen by our people in their Wellness for All charter. Now in its third year, the charter highlighted eight aspects of wellness: emotional, financial, job-related, mental wellbeing, diversity and inclusion, physical health, social, and work environment.

These priorities have inspired webinar topics ranging from coping with change to practising mindfulness. The webinars are a regular reminder that we need to look after our mental health. They share simple but powerful techniques to boost our sense of wellbeing, and are complemented by practical ‘focus’ and ‘move more’ sessions.

A simple exercise suggested by Sue is to re-evaluate now and again what your real priorities in life are and what makes you feel good. We need an occasional reminder not to sweat over the ‘small stuff’ and make room for the good, more important things in our daily lives.

This is fundamental to self-care and building up our resilience. It’s also a more timely and positive pursuit than making new year’s resolutions. Identifying what makes us feel good and healthy is a better starting point when we consider making changes in our lives over the coming year.

If they are enjoyable, our intentions are more likely to lead to sustainable behaviour. Maybe going for a walk in the local park each morning before work, or at lunchtime, rather than signing up to a gym. Or trying out a new healthy recipe every week instead of taking on a radical diet. You will have your own, better, examples.

Another sound piece of advice is to keep the changes small and simple. Minor changes are more achievable. Small steps, like seeds, can lead to bigger things. And having ruminated on our intentions through the dark days of January, the beginning of February is the time to get planting.

As the days start to lengthen and we sense that spring is around the corner, we are more likely to be minded to do something new and sow the seeds that will nurture our wellbeing and sense of achievement over the coming months. That’s a more sensible and sustainable resolution.

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