By GLYNIS VALENTI
Times Leader Staff Writer
The holidays are over. It's cold. It's dark. It's January, and for the next six to eight weeks you want to hibernate, eat brownies and live in a Snuggie. Though your mind is telling you this isn't a good idea, it can't seem to focus on any better options. Here are the better options.
Taking a few small steps toward beating the January blues can lead you to a happier, healthier 2011. For instance, walking six miles per week beginning now can help prevent memory loss years down the road.
First, you're not alone. Many people feel "the blues" after the parties and food and bittersweet time with relatives. January means back to the grindstone during a few hours of cloudiness between dark mornings and darker nights. Good news already: by January the hours of daytime are on the increase, and, by the end of the month, there will be about 44 minutes more daylight.
This philosophy for beating the January blues is simple: replace negative and self-destructive thoughts and actions with positive ones. Beginning each day by listening to the latest news of wars, murders, disasters and unemployment psychologically sets the tone. For one week, try listening to a radio show or favorite music instead. Set aside a few minutes to meditate which will increase your focus. After one week, you may not miss the drone of the television and find the news easier to take later in the day.
Maybe you overdid the hors d' oeuvres the past couple of months, but starchy comfort food like macaroni and cheese won't really make you feel better. It's a new year, and the cookies and eggnog are in the past. To boost your energy and immune system, combine proteins with vitamins and anti-oxidants.
Eggs, cheese, cottage cheese and yogurt are good sources of protein. Not all yogurt is created equal, though. Read the labels, because many are high in sugar. Greek yogurt has twice the protein. A cheese omelet with spinach (or other leafy greens,) peppers and mushrooms is a filling, balanced entre without the heaviness of meat and potato dishes.
Snack on fruits and nuts throughout the day. Fresh pink grapefruit and sweet kiwi give you necessary Vitamin C for cold and flu season. Sip power-packed green tea with lemon and ginger to prevent a cold or fight the one coming on.
High fiber foods like apples, oatmeal and whole grain breads stabilize blood sugar, while high-starch and high-carbohydrate choices like pasta, potatoes and root vegetables can spike and drop sugar levels. Natural nuts-not honey-roasted-are full of vitamins and minerals and a little bit of good fat. Throw some walnuts, blueberries (vitamins and anti-oxidants) and banana slices (potassium) on bran cereal (fiber,) and you'll have two of the five recommended servings of fruit per day and feel satisfied until lunchtime.
In this region, average January temperatures range from 20 to 35 degrees with a few inches of snow-not unreasonable for taking a five-minute walk. Yes, studies show that even a brief five minutes in fresh air is beneficial psychologically and physically. Walking six miles per week increases those benefits, even helping to prevent memory loss later in life. To go a step-so to speak-further, while you're walking, don't think about the day's troubles or worries. Think about the fresh air entering and flowing through your body, invigorating every cell.
Plan a day trip or take ski lessons. Or dance lessons, or some other hobby you've wanted to try. Rather than dwelling on the misery of January, use this "down" time to try something new. Knit a scarf one weekend; go see a hockey game the next. Schedule one day per month to volunteer at the animal shelter, the hospital or senior center. It's a proven fact that giving to others improves your own well-being.
The point of the hobby, the project or the volunteering is the accomplishment. Dance lessons don't have to lead to television appearances, but you'll have begun the year with a new experience, and, hopefully, spent part of the dismal month productively and enjoying yourself.
Social networking websites keep people from connecting face to face as often. If a full-blown Super Bowl party isn't your thing, pick up a funny movie, make some popcorn and invite a few close friends over. Ask each of them to bring an item for potluck and have dinner with the movie. Decorate with a few pillows or flowers on the table in bright, sunny colors (another psychological upper.) Everyone looks forward to casual get-togethers with best buddies.
A vase of flowers, hard boiled eggs, a stack of Leslie Nielson classics and a pot of green tea may seem like small steps to take on the path to happiness this month, but that's the beauty of it. The sum of these small efforts will give you greater benefits than you realize. By the end of the month, you could be slimmer, cold-free, have a new hobby and maybe some new friends. January will be over before you know it.
Glynis Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.