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less is moreApparent contradictions can hold such wisdom. “Less is more” was popularised and advocated by the minimalist designer Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Fellow architect Frank Lloyd Wright retorted “…only when more is too much.” Both these two ideas have validity in building our lives.

For many, this is the season for starting afresh: New Year resolutions, goals, intentions, aspirations – whatever terminology one cares to choose they all share a message of making changes in life. As I wrote last week, the Roman God Janus straddles the past and the future. The New Year, however arbitrary, does give us a chance to reflect on where we find ourselves and to begin again in some respects. For some people, the goal setting process adds projects to a life – bringing purpose and meaning; for others, adding projects and goals can actually be a saboteur to fulfilment.

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janusThe month of January is named after the ancient Roman god of Janus. Usually depicted as having two faces, looking to the future and to the past, he represents gateways, passages and endings. However, given the festive season isn’t always a time of good will, for some his mythical role as presiding over the beginning and ending of conflict may feel more relevant. The figurehead of Janus also reminds me of the two faces of the New Year. January is a time of transitions and laying down of new patterns – in that sense, we have the face of optimism. On the other-hand (or other-cheek), the looking back can be clouded by regret or remorse. Our year may be clouded with disappointment; a feeling we failed to meet expectations. It can also give a sense of old patterns that we’ve not been able to break, and can have left us feeling low. The “January blues” are not an uncommon experience for many people. The long build up to Christmas, whether stressful or exciting, is now over. The month of December may have physical, financial and emotional costs.

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I’m looking forward to the festive season this year. It holds an opportunity: a time to get together with friends, family and generally unplug from an ordinarily busy life. However, I haven’t always felt this positive anticipation about the winter break, so I can understand the statistics that uncover another somewhat ‘darker’ side to December (and indeed one that continues in to the early part of the New Year). Recent data released by the Centre for Mental Health shows peak rates of stress, anxiety and depression at this time of year – and this is above the ordinary baseline of 23% of adults who suffer from mental health issues. Staggering and worrying figures.

How has a season that was once about joy become one that brings on such stress, anxiety and depression? Why has a time of opportunity to connect become a period threatening loneliness and isolation?