“I’m eating Mini Eggs, it’s the first week of January, and I’m not even sorry,” admits Stylist’s Kayleigh Dray. “But I can’t help but wonder how all of this early Easter chocolate is impacting my sense of time.”
On Sunday 3 January, I popped into my local supermarket to buy a bottle of milk, a loaf of bread, and a very reasonable amount of toilet paper (just four rolls, thank you very much). I was so confident in my shopping plans that I hadn’t even taken a plastic bag, because I knew I could carry those three basic items without one.
When I came out of Co-Op, though, every single pocket on my outfit was filled to bursting with Easter goodies. Because, when it came to joining the socially distanced queue to the tills, I found myself trudging past two shelves dedicated entirely to Malteser Bunnies, Cadury’s Mini Eggs, Creme Eggs, Caramel Eggs, and even Terry’s Chocolate Orange Mini Eggs (be still my beating heart)… and I couldn’t resist.
I didn’t think about the fact we’ve barely made it through the first week of January: I just smilingly scraped an armful of Easter chocolates into my basket, walked up to the till, and paid for the lot with nary a wince at the price.
Indeed, it wasn’t until I logged into my 9am Zoom meeting the next day that I realised there was anything weird in my behaviour whatsoever.
“It’s January!” my colleagues exploded, almost in unison, before one wryly suggested that it won’t be long before we start shopping for Christmas trees in June.
Later, as I mindlessly nibbled on a classic Mini Egg (you can apparently have too much of Terry’s stash, it seems), I pondered the situation. Because, while I refuse to ever apologise for my snack-based decisions, I couldn’t help but wonder if embracing Easter chocolate so early in the year might actually be impacting my perceived sense of time.
Which is, as you might imagine, a very deep thought to find yourself having on a Monday morning.
“There is something to be said about someone starting to celebrate something quite so early, as it suggests they might not actually be happy in the present moment,” says psychologist Dr Becky Spelman, when I broach the subject with her.
“How much time do you actually spend in the present moment on a day-to-day basis, and how much time do you spend thinking about the past and thinking about the future? Because it is said that thinking about the future in an unhelpful way can actually feed into anxiety.”
As I quickly nudge my bag of Mini Eggs under a sheet of papers and out of sight, she continues: “It’s worth investigating how much time you are spending appreciating and finding pleasure in the present moment.
“Is eating Easter eggs at this time of year, and longing for Easter, a sign that someone is not actually happy in the here and now? That they’re finding bliss in thinking about days ahead where they feel that things will actually be better?
“Is it worth asking yourself what is actually wrong in your life right now? And are there things that you want to focus on and improve upon?”
Psychotherapist Ruairi Stewart, aka The Happy Whole Coach, agrees wholeheartedly with Spelman’s read of the situation.
“Being constantly presented with seasonal marketing can definitely have an impact on your ability to stay present in the here and now,” he tells me.
“It is essentially reminding you of a tangible event on the horizon which can create a multitude of different thoughts, feelings and judgements around that trigger… especially when you mix in the continued uncertainty around the current pandemic. Many of us just had to make it through Christmas without seeing friends or family, after all, and we’re now being faced with a similar daunting situation at Easter thanks to the new lockdown rules.”
He continues: “When someone is constantly looking ahead and caught in a spiral of anxious thoughts for the future, however, it can be intense, scary and intimidating. Cycles of ‘what if’ thoughts can leave a person experiencing anxiety unable to relax, worrying about a future based scenario that may or may not happen.
“If you have been anxious about finances or worried about the future in general, then a reminder of Easter in the shops this early could be enough to trigger overwhelming feelings if this was something you weren’t previously thinking about.”
Perhaps sensing my growing despair over my stash of seasonal chocolate, Stewart adds: “I believe, though, that looking ahead with hope is beneficial, as the anticipation of future events can have a positive impact on your wellbeing in the present moment.
“Because, while research suggests mindfulness and living in the present moment is more beneficial to your wellbeing and can improve your overall happiness, in ‘normal’ life, we have things planned ahead in our calendars. We have holidays, weddings, and social events to look forward to. And looking forward is a means of preparing and giving ourselves something to be excited about.”
“In 2020, a lot of that was scrapped with the constant changing of restrictions and policies around lockdown,” Stewart goes on.
“And, though we are still in the midst of this pandemic, planning ahead for yourself, however loosely, and having something to look forward to in the near future can in fact raise your mood, give you something to focus on distraction wise and make you more optimistic.
“It can help shift perspectives from negative thinking and a bleak outlook on the current circumstances to something uplifting. It can also help with motivation and discipline, giving you something to aim towards and help with daily routine and structure. And it is also a reminder that this won’t last forever.”
Both Stewart and Spelman suggest cultivating an appreciation of the present with a daily gratitude practice, noting that doing so can “help shift your perspective and raise your mood in the process.”
And, when I nervously express my fears over my love of egg-shaped chocolate, they’re quick to reassure me.
“I see nothing wrong at all with eating Easter chocolates at any time of year,” says Spelman. “It is, after all, just chocolate.”
And Stewart adds: “If you are happy eating Easter eggs in January, then that’s all that matters. It’s all about being comfortable with your choices and owning them, so you do you regardless of the season!”
Thank goodness for that, eh?