Today is supposedly the day that in the UK, everyone feels the worst, post-Christmas, and has been dubbed 'blue monday'. Whilst this has sort of been exposed as pseudo-science, I understand the theory behind it. All year, I am prone to bouts of depression, and even in the summer I can find myself in a black mood - however January seems to emphasise it, and make it all seem so much worse. Maybe it's the constant wind, the grey starts and dark evenings, or the rain at your window most nights, but somehow, it all conspires to make me feel so awful.
January is a long, dark month, and it seems to never, so you need to take care of yourself and be aware of when your mood might be slipping. Here are my best, tried and tested tips I've learned over the years to try and shift that mid-January-funk.
(Please check the disclaimer at the end of this post for further information and links to mental health websites.)
1. SLEEP WELL: I find that I never get enough sleep, ever, but that is just me. I often beat myself up over sleeping in at the weekends, but that is my body's way of screaming at me to listen to it! It needed that 12 hours! Conversely, if you find yourself sleeping at lot, and are still waking up tired, this can be your body's way of telling you that something isn't right. Be aware of your sleep patterns, practise good sleep hygiene, and hopefully you'll notice an improvement.
2. GET OUTSIDE: Fresh air, sunlight, and Vitamin D do wonders for your body, your mind and your general health. Even if you're just doing an extra five minute walk in the daylight, getting out of your office at lunch and walking once around the block, or to the corner-shop, it really helps. Also, fluorescent light like in offices, etc, and the blue-light from your laptop does something weird to your circadian rhythms and your hypothalamus (the bit of the brain that regulate sleep patterns, melatonin, serotonin levels, other hormones, and all sorts of stuff in your body), so trying to keep them in line with good, natural sunlight is generally not a bad plan.
3. BE SOCIABLE: I find that the best thing to lifting me out of a sharply spiralling mood, are friends. Even just reaching out to them by text or Whatsapp and having a stupid conversation makes me feel miles better. I'm naturally quite an introverted person, and don't like to rely on other people if I can help it, but sometimes, you've got to lean on someone else and admit when you're not coping.
4. BUY A NEW LIGHT: I've never tried these, but I know several people swear by clocks that wake you up with daylight-level artificial light and lamps that use daylight-bulbs, which helps boost those chemical levels we were talking about earlier. I have no experience of this, so I don't really like to comment, but if you're working in an indoor environment, travelling to and from work in the dark, this could be the way to boost your daylight levels.
5. FIND A ROUTINE: I find that I work best when I'm going to bed at a reasonable hour, waking at a good time and getting into a little routine when I get home from work. It takes the guesswork out of the evening if I know what I'm having for dinner, what time I need to get up and do things. At the weekends, I try to get up at a reasonable hour and make the most of the daylight. Make a schedule, if you need to, but I find if I'm sitting about at the weekends, wondering if I'll do something, I get really stressed that I won't see the sun for a whole week, so schedule things in.
6. COMFORT FOOD VS HEALTHY FOOD: I think in January, you shouldn't be super strict on yourself and force yourself to detox with weird all green spinach and kale juices (though this is proven to be a load of nonsense) that suck the last remaining joy (eating all your Christmas chocolate and the leftover cheese you found at the back of the fridge) by eating very little. However, getting your vitamins is important, so make sure you up your fruit and vegetable intake, and screw it, eat that cheese, go for Nando's or pizza with your mates if you want, cook a giant lasagne, if you want. Who am I tell you what to eat?! Just find a balance that suits you.
7. MAKE PLANS: Having things to look forward to is a great idea, even if it's just a day out or doing something that you enjoy. I am a firm believer of spending time alone, so try and schedule something you really love, maybe a day out to an exhibition or a museum trip, or having a little day out at the weekend, just to have something to look forward to that you really enjoy to help recharge your batteries, and remind you of the good stuff in life.
8. BE KIND TO YOURSELF: I said it before, but be kind to yourself, look after yourself. If you're feeling rubbish, make friends and family aware, because they do care about you, even if your brain might be telling you otherwise. Don't strip all the joy from your life, make time to recharge, do things you really love, sleep in at the weekend, eat chocolate in bed... February is a short month, and then it's easter, and then it's basically summer, so you'll make it, don't worry.
If you do get very low in the winter months, you may want to consider that you could have seasonal-affective-disorder, which is a medical condition characterised by depression, generally thought to be caused by a lack of sunlight in the winter. Just something to consider though, if you get very bad every year.
Obviously, I am not a professional, or a doctor or anything like that. These are just my tips after having suffered from depression for many years now. For more information on depression and mental health, please check some of these links out, as they give better advice than nearly anyone ever could: Samaritans, the NHS, Childline and the Mental Health Foundation. (I don't really rate Mind after they endorsed some problematic stuff, but they do have some good advice on the matter.) Also, if you are worried about anything else to do with your mental health, please seek the advice of a GP.