Advice for beating the winter blues

There’s much in the media about Blue Monday, and the notion that the third Monday of January is the most depressing day of the year.

Here at St Andrew’s Healthcare we know that it’s important to distinguish between temporary feelings of sadness or anxiety, which everyone has from time to time, and more serious mental health problems.

Carly Wilson, Clinical Psychologist within our Private Therapy Service, shares some tips that anyone can use to help banish the winter blues… 

Most of us have heard the saying ‘winter blues’ referring to feeling low and deflated over the winter period - especially once the excitement and busyness of Christmas is far behind us. Have you ever found yourself saying, ‘I just need to get through January and February and get to the Spring’?

Although those first couple of months fill many of us with a sense of dread, there are some things we can do to help combat those winter blues.

Unless you spend the winter in sunnier climes abroad, you are faced with reduced daylight hours here in the UK. Have you ever driven to and from work in the dark and don’t feel like you’ve seen daylight for weeks on end?

Research has shown that many of us are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), sometimes known as ‘winter depression’. The symptoms for SAD are often more pronounced in December, January and February and include persistent low mood, feeling lethargic, sleeping for longer, irritability, feelings of despair and loss of pleasure in activities. SAD is believed to be strongly related to the reduction in exposure to daylight hours. If you feel you are suffering from SAD it is advised for you to see your GP for which Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and medication might be advised.

Even if you do not have SAD, there are some other things that can help if you feel the struggle of winter. Consider getting a light box which is designed to simulate exposure to daylight - this can be a great way to help you gradually wake up on those dark mornings. You can also increase your exposure to daylight throughout the day – take a walk at lunchtime and boost your physical and emotional wellbeing.

Often we struggle with the motivation to exercise in the winter, as it may be dark when you get home or it’s cold and rainy. At these times we can bring the exercise indoors. If the gym is not for you, how about an exercise DVD at home? Or a local Zumba, Boxercise or yoga class? Or you could just switch some music on and dance around your living room (just remember to close the curtains!).

On the subject of health, winter often makes us want to stock up on carbs and fats to feel comforted. It’s important to have a well-balanced diet throughout the year as the wrong types of fats, too many carbs and too much sugar can leave us feeling sluggish and ill, which not only can impact on physical health but our emotional state, too. Stock up on good foods - it doesn’t all have to be about kale, it’s the perfect season for hearty soups and stews.

Avoid the temptation to hibernate. In the winter we often feel less motivated to get out and about, preferring to hide under a blanket on the sofa. While there is nothing wrong with being cosy indoors, if we do this for too long we tend to miss out on our relationships with others which provide us with social interaction, which is great for our emotional health and resilience. It can also provide a welcome change of scenery to meet for a coffee or go to someone else’s house once in a while.

Having something to look forward to. That summer holiday might feel like lightyears away so make sure you get some dates in the diary for fun activities throughout the year. Go and see that show at the theatre you have been meaning to see, have a spa day, plan a weekend away, get tickets for the football or look at events that you can set a goal for, such as a 10k race or fun run. Having something to look forward to can really benefit our emotional health and keep us motivated.

New Year’s resolutions can be a great opportunity to try something new or challenge yourself, but make sure you are setting something realistic and try to plan it well. For example, if you have set yourself a goal to run a marathon, plan your training with smaller achievable goals throughout 2018 such as finding a 5k race earlier in the year and build it up from there. This can give you a real sense of purpose and achievement. Setting goals jointly with another person is great for motivation and moral support. Why do resolutions only have to be at New Year? Consider setting yourself other goals and resolutions at different points in the year, too.

Setting up a memory jar. As January is still young, why not start a memory jar that you and your family add something into after fun activities or experiences? This could be cinema and zoo trip ticket stubs and adding in notes about all the good things that happen throughout the year. Then on New Year’s Eve open the jar and read through all the great stuff that happened in 2018.

St Andrew’s Private Therapy Outpatient Clinic can help with depression, stress, anger, mood swings, sleeping difficulties, low self-esteem, memory problems, panic attacks, anxiety and relationship difficulties.

To speak to someone about how we can help, call 01604 616050 or visit the website.