By | Published On: January 19, 2015 |

Photo by Dev Asangbam on Unsplash

Today is apparently the most depressing day of the year (the Monday of the third week in January, if studies are to be believed). Bad weather, debt that’s racked up after Christmas and a persistent cough and cold can get the chirpiest of us down. Having a low or fluctuating mood can be bad for our emotional health if it persists for any length of time – so even if you can’t control the weather or the state of your bank balance, here are some tips to help you feel more positive and engaged with life.

Sad or SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – also known as “winter depression” – affects around two million people in the UK, and four times as many women as men. If you feel tired, lethargic and low during the winter months, but not at any other time of the year, it may be related to your levels of certain brain chemicals (such as serotonin) and hormones (such as melatonin). For more information, visit this page on the NHS website.

In order to receive an official diagnosis of SAD you should visit your GP, who may prescribe antidepressants or CBT therapy, depending on the severity of your depression. If you want a quick DIY solution, however, you can buy your own lightbox, which replaces the bright sunlight you normally see in summer and reportedly can improve the symptoms of 8 in 10 people with SAD.

It’s also important to get as much natural sunlight as your routine will allow – even with these short days, try and get some fresh air during your lunchbreak. A brisk walk will do wonders for your mood, as well as maximising the chances of getting some natural vitamin D.

Monthly mood swings

Women who suffer from pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) can find that they feel angry, irritable and depressed for a few days a month due to fluctuating levels of hormones. Two in five women suffer so badly they go to see the GP about it, and 4% have to take up to two days off work per month due to the severity of their symptoms. If you’re among those who experience regular mood swings, you could do worse than trying the supplement Agnus Castus – also known as “chasteberry”. Dubbed a “marriage saver” by the Daily Mail, research published in the British Medical Journal found that it performed much better than a placebo in clinical trials to treat symptoms of PMS.

Don’t change too much too quickly

People have always reacted against the excess of Christmas with New Year deprivation. Sales of diet books soar during this period, and it’s now become popular to have “dry January” – a month off booze altogether.

Although it’s great to give the body a rest from the toxins we normally throw at it, if you feel emotional and moody it may be because your body is reacting to the drastic change. If you’re used to eating junk food, then switch overnight to salads and soups, your system may experience a bit of a shock – likewise if you normally drink a bottle of wine a night and then go cold turkey.

I’m not saying it’s not good to eat more healthily and reduce your consumption of alcohol, and of stimulants like caffeine and nicotine. But if you’re experiencing severe mood swings, you may need to phase in the changes more gradually to give your old body a chance to catch up with the new regime!

Have something to look forward to

It’s hard to turn on the TV or open a newspaper without being surrounded by images of golden beaches and “winter sun” offers that are very attractive, given the current state of the weather in the UK right now! But you don’t need to spend your savings on the trip of a lifetime – just plan in regular treats that give you something to look forward to. This could be spending a weekend with a friend, booking a massage, or just cooking your favourite meal. But, to coin a popular advertising slogan, feeling that “we’re worth it” and acting on this feeling by proactively planning fun activities in the near future is great for morale.

Feel it – and let go

Although this might seem to contradict the tips above, it doesn’t. Pretending you don’t feel low when you really do just alienates you from yourself and prevents you from moving through the feeling. Try to sit quietly for a while and let yourself fully experience the sadness or anger or whatever it is that’s going on for you. Where in your body do you feel it? Can you be aware of any thoughts that accompany the feeling?

Research into mindfulness shows that people who can sit and fully experience their emotions, whether positive or negative, are able to move through them faster, and meditators report feeling fewer extremes of emotion and a greater sense of groundedness and optimism. You can still make all the interventions in the steps above to improve your mood – but letting yourself be human and accept when you feel bad is also a key part of the process.

If you have any other suggestions for how to cope with the Winter Blues let me know on Twitter: suefirthstress