Personally, Christmas is a period that I normally dread. Putting aside the shorter days and colder nights, it’s the time of year when inevitably something last minute will turn up in my inbox demanding to be dealt with ‘by the end of the year’. That, and the enforced fun activities do little to lift my mood. In short, I am not a very fun person to be around in December (apologies to my work colleagues).
In January, however, I’m a little more cheery. The cheesy decorations have come down, and the special Christmas jumper goes back into storage for another year. Yes, the days are still short and the weather is even more miserable. However, for the past four years, January means RED January.
What’s RED January?
RED January is a community initiative that helps people support their mental wellbeing by Running Every Day (or any form of physical activity you fancy). CEO and Founder Hannah Beecham was inspired to start RED January after witnessing the transformative effect that regular exercise had on her Mum as she recovered from a period of severe depression. Hannah’s aim was to start a free event for all fitness abilities that would give people a focus during January, a characteristically tough month.
Now, to be clear, I don’t run particularly far each day – 15 minutes is normally my limit. But for 31 days, I have something to commit to, knowing that the sense of achievement I will experience could lift my mood. In addition to the sense of achievement, RED January prevents me from doing what I generally want to do in winter – namely hibernate.
By committing to run every day, I am also joining a community spread all over the UK (and other corners of the world) supporting their mental health through doing something active every day in January (or February, or any month that works for them). I’ve become accountable to them and them to me. On days when I would rather resort to my usual state, I see the messages from others who are celebrating a park run or brisk walk, and be encouraged. Though I’ve never met any of them, knowing that others are taking on the same challenge is the incentive to lace up my trainers on days when I really don’t feel like it. Whether you enjoy RED January as a team or solo, when you sign up you become part of a wider community of ‘REDers,’ all supporting and motivating each other.
This encouragement and sense of community is not just limited to January. Running has connected me to others in the larger running community. I have been able to reach out to others in a way I could not in a more formal setting. Pounding the streets with others has led to great conversations and a chance to talk about my mental health. I was first introduced to running with others through a running collective called Run Dem Crew, and I haven’t looked back. Many of their running sessions start with a reminder to check-in on people you have not seen in a while – that check-in could be the contact that person desperately needs. Checking in on someone is not something that comes naturally to me, nor is reaching out when I need it. Running has been a great excuse to make that contact.
So, what can I do?
You can join RED January for free at: redjanuaryformind.co.uk. If you are social-media minded, you can join the online RED community (@REDJanuaryUK) on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
Whether you take on the challenge or simply commit to a change in the new year, I hope you will all take some time to reach out to someone who has fallen off your radar. There are some practical tips to help with having conversations on the Wellbeing at the Bar website (www.wellbeingatthebar.org.uk/help-a-colleague). I would definitely recommend going through this if you are apprehensive about approaching anyone.
Have a Happy New Year!