It’s early January, and as the sparkle of Christmas fades, we begin to edge back into our daily routines. Perhaps you are relishing a return to normality or embracing a new challenge? Or maybe you find the cold, dark days of January a bit of a struggle?
It’s not unusual to find January a little tough-going. In fact, it is recognised that January presents a set of natural, psychological and physical factors which can combine to cause both mental and physical symptoms.
Scientists have proved a causal connection between the low level of daylight we receive in January and a complex depressive illness known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Low exposure to sunlight has an impact on hormone levels (melatonin and serotonin) in the part of the brain that controls mood, sleep and appetite.
Symptoms of SAD are wide-ranging and can include depression, lack of energy, concentration problems, anxiety, overeating, and social and relationship problems. However, the impact of SAD varies significantly from person to person. At one end of the scale, around 20% of the UK population experience the ‘Winter Blues’ – feeling tired, grumpy and a bit down. At the other extreme, some people experience more debilitating depression and must seek treatment in order to be able to continue going about their daily lives.
Psychological pressure plays its part too. During Christmas and New Year, we are bombarded by cultural messages about being part of a family, enjoying time with friends, experiencing happiness and creating new life-goals. It’s not surprising that this can sometimes leave us feeling inadequate and low – especially if we don’t feel we quite match up to the ‘perfect’ picture portrayed. Add to this the physical factors associated with this time of year – over-consumption of alcohol, poor diet and lack of exercise – and it comes as no surprise that January can spell disaster for our mood and mental health.
Today, the challenges of January are well-recognised. We even have a (not particularly scientific!) mathematical formula for calculating when ‘Blue Monday’ – the single most depressing day of the year – will occur. Originally initiated by a PR company, Blue Monday is now a widely known annual event. It is calculated based on: the weather, debt level, amount of time since Christmas, time since failing our New Year’s resolutions, low motivational levels and the feeling of a need to take charge. Based on this formula, you can expect Blue Monday 2018 to hit on January 15.
So, as we trudge on through Blue Monday and the rest of January, here are some tips to help you beat the January Blues:
Let the sunshine in
Open up blinds and curtains, seek a window seat or head outside to gain some extra daylight. Clinically-tested light units are also available, which mimic natural outdoor light. These have been shown to have a positive effect on brain chemicals linked to mood.
Swap Prosecco for H2O
Staying hydrated is a simple way to feel better. Drinking at least eight glasses of water a day will remove toxins and waste, as well as preventing headaches and joint pain. If you’re giving alcohol a break, then taking part in a Dry January fundraiser such as Cancer Research UK’s Dryathlon could deliver the boost of positivity and motivation you need.
Take a Norwegian mind-set
In Norway, winter is positively embraced, rather than endured. This shift in mind-set finds and celebrates the positives associated with the season – from getting cozy by the fire, to drinking hot beverages, skating or building a snowman, they are there if we look hard enough!
Wrap up, head out
Grab that scarf your Great Aunt Fran knitted you for Christmas and put it to good use. Taking a short, brisk walk in the cold is enough to boost your exercise and improve your mood. Just wrap up well – the great outdoors is waiting.
Take small steps
Ignore the pressure to embark on grand plans or resolutions – this can create feelings of inadequacy and failure. Instead, try to focus on one small step that points you in a new direction. That might simply be researching a new course or take a small amount of time to re-discover a hobby. Small steps can be achieved. Why not take advantage of our New Year, New You offer? With 15% off all our GCSEs and A Levels it is a really great time to get started on your ambitions.
For further information and support on Winter Blues and SAD and how to seek help if you feel you need it see: