How the Danish Beat the January Blues with Hygge
21st January 2020
Our last article covered some tips to share with your patients about how to cope with cancer over the Christmas period. However, even when the festive period comes to an end, the emotional toll isn’t always over; especially for people living with cancer. This time of year can leave many people feeling low or a bit let down.
The New Year is considered a time for new beginnings, but for many there is a loss of positivity. There are several factors thought to contribute to the January blues. For example, the gloomy weather, post-Christmas debt, failed New Year’s resolutions, the lull after the busy festive period, low motivation, loneliness having spent lots of time with family and friends over the holidays and the feeling of a need to get back into a routine. These factors are only exacerbated by the health anxiety often felt by people with cancer, not to mention the side effects of cancer treatment often including fatigue and lethargy.
It may be useful to mention to your cancer patients experiencing January blues that this is not the same as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). January blues is a situational low mood associated with how we think and feel. SAD can affect people for a much longer period of time and is believed to be associated with how the body responds to light.
What should I recommend to my cancer patients with the January blues?
Simple things like going for a walk outside, enjoying a favourite meal with loved ones, taking the time to read a book or watch a movie can all help boost mood.
Cancer treatment can often affect appetite and may result in a lack of desire to eat at all, let alone eating well. It is important to try and maintain a healthy and balanced diet throughout January to support the immune system and lift mood.
Experiencing the January blues alongside living with cancer can mean it is hard to find the motivation and energy to get moving. Yet where possible, patients should try to get active regularly. Suggest a lunchtime walk, trying an exercise DVD at home or some yoga.
Finally, encourage your patients to make the most of winter. Danish winters are long and dark, yet Danes are reported to be the happiest population in the world. It is suggested this is because they have created the concept of ‘hygge’ – a mood of cosiness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment. For example, in winter it means having friends round for a hot cup of tea and to watch a movie under a blanket.
How can GPs apply the principles of hygge to support patients experiencing the winter blues?
‘Hygge’ loosely translates to “warm and cosy.” However, for the Danish population, hygge is more than that – it is a state of mind, life philosophy and a way to practice happiness and positivity. Hygge is about spending time with the people we love and refers to a feeling of being at home and feeling safe.
There are several key elements of practicing hygge. Firstly, creating a cosy environment. This may refer to settling down on the sofa with pillows and a blanket, or lighting candles to create a soft and warm glow. In fact, your favourite spot to snuggle up and read your favourite book is called “hyggekrog” and the comfy clothes you choose to wear whilst doing this are called “hyggebukser”. Secondly, unwind and switch off. Swap scrolling through your phone or watching TV for a relaxing bath or read the book you’ve had on your bed side table for months. Thirdly, socialise. Bake a cake and invite some friends over to spend some quality time together. Fourthly, stay active. When the sun does make a rare appearance in winter, get outside and take a brisk walk. Embrace the season.
One study found that hygge is integral to people’s sense of well-being in Denmark. It is though to act as a buffer against stress whilst encouraging camaraderie to be developed. Hygge was found to promote egalitarianism and strengthen trust.
And remember to remind your patients that the January blues pass, on average the dip in positivity lasts 2-3 weeks, with the third Monday of January, dubbed ‘Blue Monday’ predicted to be the peak. Blue Monday is thought to be the most depressing day of the year. This has been calculated considering a combination of factors; weather, debt, time since Christmas, time since failing our new year’s resolutions, low motivational levels and the feeling of a need to take action. However, it is important to acknowledge the potential anxieties and low mood related to living with cancer, beyond the January blues. Take a look at our resources section on the tool or our Supporters page for wonderful charities who offer emotional support to people affected by cancer throughout the year.
Linnet, J. T. (2011). Money can’t buy me hygge: Danish middle-class consumption, egalitarianism, and the sanctity of inner space. Social Analysis, 55(2), 21-44.