We’ve survived Blue Monday but how do we get through the rest of the month? Well, we have some top tips from a mental health expert
The start of the new year is generally a very exciting prospect for most, the hype and buzz generally die down once you settle back into the general swing of things. For many people, the cold winter days, post-Christmas blues, the return to work and lack of money can lead to a significant dip in mood. It is thought that these feelings peak by the third Monday of the month, with this day being dubbed Blue Monday.
Often, at this time of year, people may feel increased feelings of depression, lethargy and irritability. These feelings may worsen as less of us are leaving our warm homes to commute to the office, in the dark. This may result in us being less active and experiencing less daylight, which may increase the symptoms of SAD; including grumpiness, lack of energy, feeling low, sluggishness and insomnia.
If these symptoms sound familiar, there is good news. Without putting too much pressure on yourself, there are a few simple lifestyles changes you can implement to help you battle the winter blues. Try them and improve your overall mood and energy levels.
Spend time outdoors
This may not sound like the most appealing thing in the world, but going for a stroll outside can have a huge impact on your mood! Sunlight and fresh air can have amazing benefits for your health and wellbeing. Time in the fresh air is shown to boost levels of vitamin D and serotonin and help you to de-stress. Spending time in nature has been proven to reduce our stress levels. So even if you’re a city dweller, make some time to get outdoors and explore. Wrap up warm, plan for the winter weather and get out. You might be surprised by just how good you feel afterwards.
Try new things
Stimulate your creativity and imagination by trying something completely new. Why not go trampolining, learn a new instrument or take a life drawing class? When you tap into your creativity, studies show that you reduce your stress levels and experience fewer symptoms of depression. Being creative allows us to express and process our emotions. Tap into your childhood sense of exploration and focus on the moment. The perfect antidote to the dull winter evenings.
Sort out your serotonin
You may have heard about serotonin before. It’s an important chemical neurotransmitter that is thought to have a strong effect on our overall mood, wellbeing and sleep patterns. As well as being found in the brain, serotonin can also be found in the gut. Research suggests that consumption of alcohol and coffee or a poor diet could disrupt the production of serotonin. Not only that, but lack of sunlight could also contribute. So it’s no wonder that winter nights could have left you feeling a little out of balance. Luckily, it’s possible to start putting your serotonin levels back on track. Cutting back on drinking and over-eating will definitely help. As will adding more fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes and oily fish to your diet which will also help regulate your digestive system. A regular exercise pattern will also help, as long as you are enjoying yourself.
Don’t give in to the idea that a quiet night in has to be bland and boring. The Danish word ‘hygge’ refers to moments in life that are particularly cosy, charming and cherished. Why not go out of your way to make your home extra cosy, so that you’re happy to come home and snuggle up every evening? Take a little time to freshen up the house, put out some soft rugs and cushions and create a perfect nest for yourself. Make yourself a nourishing warm drink (a turmeric latte also offers some great nutritional benefits) and cuddle in for the night. Invite a friend over for a really good chat and a catch up. Or plan to watch your favourite movie. Perhaps you could find a new healthy baking recipe and cook yourself some healthy treats for the week ahead? Don’t get stuck in aimlessly channel hopping and wasting evenings wishing the hours away. Cherish your time at home and try to enjoy the cosy winter evenings you have left.
Some people who suffer with SAD find that light therapy can help improve their mood considerably. This involves sitting by a special lamp called a light box, usually for around 30 minutes to an hour each morning. These light boxes produce a very bright light, the intensity of the light is measured in lux. The higher the lux the brighter the light. The light produced by the light box simulates the sunlight that’s missed during the darker winter months. The light helps to reduce the symptoms of SAD by encouraging your brain to reduce the production of melatonin. For the light box to be effective, light from the box must enter your eyes indirectly. In order to be successful light therapy requires time and consistency.
And Remember… seek help when needed
Most cases of depression will be relatively mild. But if you’re experiencing severe symptoms, which are classified as those that seriously impact your daily life, there are also options for you. Don’t suffer in silence. Talking therapies can be extremely beneficial and some doctors will also recommend anti-depressant medications in more severe cases.
If you are experiencing severe symptoms of depression, persistent low mood, loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities, lethargy, irritability, feelings of despair, guilt or worthlessness, then make sure you reach out and talk to your health care provider about your options. No one should suffer in silence.
Chloe Ward, Technician at Smart TMS, aleading mental health clinic specialising in Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.