Welcome to the Aligned and Thriving Podcast episode "How to beat post holiday sadness and Monday blues with basic self-care." In this episode, host Judith Bowtell, a former burnt-out executive turned creative career and leadership development coach, shares her personal struggles and strategies for overcoming the challenges of returning to work after the holidays. The episode delves into the importance of staying connected to personal values, the impact of post-holiday blues, and practical self-care strategies to support mental well-being.
Podcast Episode Summary
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How to beat post holiday sadness and Monday blues with basic self-care.
[00:00:00] Welcome to the Aligned and Thriving Podcast, the best place to get the support you need to turn your working life from a struggle to a success. I'm your host, Judith Bowtell, and I'm a former burnt out executive who used to yell at my psychologist. who then had a midlife crisis and eventually reinvented herself as a creative career and leadership development coach. This show is for anyone who is struggling with having time for yourself amongst work, family, caring for others, medical issues, community needs, and even the work of staying in touch in a digital age. It took missing a promotion, a serious back injury, and a diagnosis of depression to get my working life back into balance. So this is for anyone who has seen the cracks in their life and wants to turn things around. Maybe now.
[00:00:53] Hey everyone, so by the time you're listening to this it'll be Monday and most of us are back at work or have been for some time. So how is your return to work treating you? And I'm here to help you get over the Sunday scaries, the Monday blues, and the overall start to this working year.
[00:01:13] This has been coming up with my clients and community quite a lot recently, and it's also been part of a personal struggle for me this year. So I thought we could take a bit of time out to check in on our mood and motivation and see what can support us to greet the real start of the year with vigor and enthusiasm.
[00:01:33] One of the strategies we will be delving into is how staying in contact with your personal values can give you the motivation to not lose yourself as things go back to normal. Knowing we have some agency here will give us the confidence that we can balance our work life commitments and still have time for ourselves and what's important to us. A long time ago, I remember lying under a sun umbrella in my garden in Canberra, talking to a friend about why my mood would always drop in January. Was it the heat of a Southern Hemisphere summer, the hangover from all the end of year partying, needing to just recover from a hectic run up to the end of the year that always happened, or was there something more metaphysical that I just did not understand? And with all the wisdom of less than 25 years on the planet, she just said, oh, it's because January is the Monday of the year. And I must say this January has had a very Monday vibe to it. Life is complicated and returning to work after a holiday has lots of challenges. There are financial worries about overspending during the end of the year and meeting the costs in the future. We might have health worries either from doing or avoiding annual health checks or being pressured into concerns about body size from the endless pressure of diet culture. We could have family worries from spending so much time together, you might begin to really realize how much you like and know the people you share your house with, or don't. You get an insight into the state of your siblings, marriages and life and other insights into what is not working that you now cannot ignore. You might have extra caring responsibilities. You might have gotten to a point where your active childcare load has lessened because the kids are more independent and at school. But now you might be more aware about how your parents or other older relatives have shown that they need much more care or support than you currently give. And at the end of all of this, a fear that you were just getting to feel better about yourself through getting enough sleep, getting time to relax, getting time to hang out with people you like, and maybe even do some things that you like to do. And then it all comes to an end. We promise ourselves that we'll keep in touch with the holiday feels for as long as possible. But research by the American Psychological Association shows that for 40 percent of workers, the benefits of time off start to fade after 3 or 4 days. And almost all are gone by three weeks. That's regardless of the length of the holiday. If you are feeling blue and blah at this time of the year, it is not just you, but part of a system that tells us we should be happy all the time, and then traps us in an overlapping tangle of social expectations which we then internalise. These fears and expectations fuel capitalism and consumerism, driving our urges to buy and improve our lifestyles, and trapping us in contracts where our labor, including our creative labor, is exploited and monetised by the companies and corporations in which we work. This what creates hierarchies of privilege in our society, and also hierarchies of oppression, and that again leads to systems of marginalisation. So it is not just you or me, but a systemic challenge. However, within this system, we can take some small steps that can support our individual well being and improve our capacity to support and advocate for each other and act for social change.
[00:05:16] As someone who lives with major depression, it is in my interest to find ways that support my mental health. And here are a few that are relatively simple and safe and are going to be my step by step process to have me helping feeling happier and more confident day to day.
[00:05:33] You can support me in this and hold me accountable if you like. So let's see what they are. They're go outside outside every day. Talk to someone. Drink plenty of water. Eat regularly and adequately. And limit the scrolling on social media. So, this looks pretty easy peasy. So, let's check in on my progress and the challenges that I've been facing in trying to implement this over the last few weeks.
[00:06:03] First challenge is that I work for myself. And since just before the pandemic, I work from home. I can literally stumble from my bed to the study just stopping to make a coffee or have a quick shower and use the loo. Look, honestly, sometimes I miss the shower and just land here at my desk in my PJs, but that gets old pretty quick. So I need a bit of structure and support to do these steps. So step one, going outside. Luckily, I have a dog who, despite being 80 plus years in human years, arthritic, blind and deaf, still needs to go outside and have a little sniff and a wander and do her business. That makes her feel better. And so that ticks off going outside for me, even in the worst of weathers.
[00:06:51] And step two, also having a dog that is still super cute, invites passers by to ask questions like, How old is she? Is she totally blind? Can I pat her? And that leads me to answer, she's about 16, we think. Yes, very blind, and sorry, no, she hates strangers, so please don't touch her. So that's number two, going pretty well.
[00:07:16] Step three, drinking water in a major city in a first world country is technically super easy, but I'm still in my PJs at 10 a. m. on a roll on a project. It's very easy to let simple self care go by. Putting a jug on your desk is a good way to stay hydrated. Setting a reminder also works. So for number three, I kind of have a plan or a couple of plans I can try.
[00:07:43] Then we get to number four, eat regularly and adequately. So here's the thing. I have a long history of disordered eating and dieting. Food can be challenging and recovering from all of that. I've done a lot of work to see food as neutral rather than good or bad and to eat based on my internal cues rather than external rules. What I have discovered is that when I am frustrated, angry, or upset about something, eating is often my go to response. Certain foods are craved, and that is all very normal and okay. But regular day to day eating has been more of a struggle, strangely enough, where I go long periods of just ignoring hunger signals, which then leave me pretty much starving and snacking by the end of the day. Last year, and this is like 25 years into my working life, or at least 10 years of working for myself and from home, I finally set a structured lunch break in my diary. And now most days, well, probably at least three out of five, I get up, make a lunch, or at least heat up something, sit myself down, and eat. For someone who struggled with diet culture and disordered eating, the idea of eating an adequate amount of food at regular intervals is game changing. At 50 plus, I'm pretty late to this party, but I'm starting to get the hang of it. So step four, eat regularly, is a work in progress.
[00:09:22] But now this comes to my biggest challenge. Limit the doom scrolling, or just the social media scrolling generally. I could be stuck on reading about threats to our democracy, violence against women, or it could just be homeless dogs looking for new homes. I can get sucked in for hours. See, I was just working on this script and I popped on the internet to check something or other, and an hour later of watching home organising YouTube videos, I'm back. This is what I mean as mindless scrolling. And this is why it's a problem. Oh yeah, that's what I was looking up.
[00:10:02] What is the neuroscience of mindless scrolling? Why do we do this to ourselves? So, when we complete or achieve something, we get a dopamine hit. Ticking off things on our to do list, completing something, achieving something, which is great. Dopamine rewards can feel like a warm hug or a piece of chocolate. It's a good thing. Doing actions in line with your values also produce dopamine, which is why I encourage you to do more of that. And you can hear more about it in the first three episodes of Aligned and Thriving. However, this is really big, however, our brains don't recognise the difference between achieving something useful or just something. So we also get dopamine rewards for completing Useless tasks like those in online games or even worse, gambling systems and our social media feeds, getting a like or a comment or a response on social media is a dopamine kick. So it motivates us to do it again and again and again. When a large part of your job involves using social media and researching via the internet, it is an easy slide down those rabbit holes. You know the new story that you need to know more about, or the author you wanna follow up on the story that poses more questions that need answering. Then there is the post that you need to like and reply. The LinkedIn requests for input that flatters my ego, the notifications and the DMs, and the group chats. And for me, a lot of this is actually work. I have four separate pages on Facebook plus groups I manage. I have at least two LinkedIn profiles plus Instagram. And I have this podcast now and a website plus online programs and material. That's a lot to check each day and a lot of openings for distractions. I can start a day checking my personal feeds and end up with an online discussion, a major research project, or a pitch to come and be a guest on this show, if I'm fully inspired by what somebody said. Google searches morph into image libraries and YouTube clips and TikToks. And then I am a loop of short form content that is endless and enticing. Then I have messaging apps, chat notifications, project matter. Management platforms, and even good old email pop ups. Whilst it is the tech wizard's interest to keep us constantly online, it creates a mini universe of endless possibility and trillions and trillions of cat videos. And the problem with our scrolling habits is that too much of it has significant impact on our brain and therefore our well being and mood. Particularly, and I found this really interesting, if we keep looking at similar content, we can become fatigued and disengaged. And not doing the things you want to do, even if you were really motivated and even looking forward to them. Breaking these cycles are difficult. So what are some small steps I could take to break this habit? Again, there's timers. Structured interruptions, timeboxing, recording, are all ways I can interrupt myself when I'm in these holes. Apparently watching unrelated content is easier to break than watching something that's all the same. So that's the reason why the algorithm sends you five cute puppy videos in a row. And there is you. With a timer and a willpower, or me, with a timer and a willpower to revisit all of this sophisticated web of enticements and systems of micro rewards and emotional imbalance. I think it is really important at this point to remember that it is not a matter of willpower to manage your social media consumption and distractions. Just like with diet culture and consumerism, we get sold a whole lot of simple strategies that don't work long term and then send us searching for the next quick fix. And I think one key thing we can do to support us in putting in better habits. Actually, a couple of things, but I think there are a few key things we can do to support us in creating better habits.
[00:14:26] And the first is to align this change project or resolution to values that intrinsically and authentically motivate you to change, or in this case, myself. And for me. The first of those is courage. It takes courage to pull myself up and risk a dressing down from my self critic. But it's courage that's going to help me achieve the things I want to do.
[00:14:56] And the second is compassion. To deflect that self critic, I have to give myself kindness around my less useful activities, and encouragement to try again. A second strategy that I've used and it's been incredibly helpful is to use a self reflection diary about what happened. And this is not a place to judge or berate yourself. It really is about having an honest but neutral look at what has happened. So you describe what happened in as neutral a way as possible. You note what started the wandering off into the risk area and the rabbit hole I fell down. And then note what broke the cycle, the thought, the feeling, the action. And then observe how I am feeling, doing it again with kindness, not judgement, and start again. And then the next time it happens, you get the self reflection journal out and do the same practice. And in that way you begin to understand yourself. And in understanding ourselves, we can support ourselves to change. And then the third point, which I want to make, and this is really important to underpin one and two, is that you've got to remember that all the actions that you're taking a trial and error, they're just tests.
[00:16:19] If something is not working or achieving the outcome you want. Just give it up or make another change. If timers work great, but if you are easily overwriting or ignoring them, find something else. Don't rely on willpower alone. Find a support structure that holds you until a new habit is formed. And accept that you may need this structure, or whatever you find, in place for the long haul. And that's okay.
[00:16:53] And finally, don't be afraid to ask for help. A problem shared is a problem halved. So even if you just get nods and agreements from others that they struggle too, you break down the idea that this is something individual and potentially shameful. In fact, it is just another part of our humanity that connects us to others. We are all up against the machines of capitalism and consumerism. It is how our world works. Reach out for support to counter these influences in our lives so you can reconnect to your authentic values. Remember that you're on a learning curve, a growth experience, and everything you try is an experiment, not a moral failure.
[00:17:34] Be kind to yourself and others as you try to make changes for the better. And remember, you're just not alone in these struggles. And that in itself is something to celebrate. So thank you so much for listening to my rambles. I have found the process of writing the script to be quite therapeutic and deepening my own understanding of why doing the right thing is sometimes a struggle.
[00:17:57] I hope you enjoyed your time with me today and let me know what you thought in the review section, or just reach out on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, wherever you want to find me. And I look forward to connecting with you this month when we meet with more fabulous individuals who share their challenges in their working life and how their values have supported them in even the toughest of times.