This year things have not started as expected, for many of us in the UK, or even further afield, this January starts with yet another lockdown. This of course is not great news and will cause many to feel down and defeated.
A recent client had referred to her low mood as her ‘January Blues’, she commented that she often experienced this around mid-January and this year she felt the onset had started much earlier due to the impact of the pandemic and current lockdown. This got me thinking if many people have brushed off their symptoms as simply low mood or the aftermath of the Christmas holiday when in the fact this could be the signs of mild depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that takes place around the winter months.
December, February, and January are often referred to as the worst months for SAD, especially in cold climates faced with glummer and shorter daylight hours.
Coincidently, January has one day which is associated with high rates of calls to helplines and high registered days of sick leave by employees in the UK. Named Blue Monday, as it is believed to have the most depressing day of the year. This day is usually the third Monday of the month. The reasons why this day is perceived as to be the worst day of the year has been argued to reflect factors as, people feeling low from the cold short days, being broke since their last pay-check was in mid-December, the guilt of failed new year’s resolutions, and possibly struggling from dry January pledges.
So, what are the signs you may be suffering from January Blues (and possibly SAD)?
Having problems with sleep - Are you having sleep problems, this could be sleeping more or less than usual. Is it hard to get yourself out bed when the alarm sounds?
No motivation or energy - lookout for the feeling of no energy, motivation and feeling tired all the time
Reduced social contact - This one might seem unfair as an indicator but with lockdown induced restrictions, it has been hard to meet up with loved ones and organising Zoom calls is probably not high on your list after a week’s worth of virtual work meetings.
Mood swings and unusual outbursts - It might be others have commented on your persistent low mood, lasting two weeks or more, or you may have noticed your mood is especially low in the mornings.
Comfort eating - has your cravings for carbohydrates increased. So, the weight gain which you might have noticed may not only be because of the Christmas binge eating but a sign of the seasonal affective disorder.
Negative self-talk - You find that your persistent low mood, low energy, and motivation causes a cycle of negative inner dialogue.
Now that you have some insight into some of the symptoms of January blues or SAD, I would argue you do not need to endure it and you can make a conscious effort to keep the blues away or seek help.
So how can you do that? These are five key ways to improve your mental health and general wellbeing.
1. Improve your sleep
Research has linked seasonal depression to the natural hormone melatonin, which helps to control our sleep cycle. Melatonin production peaks in the early hours of the morning and reduce during daylight hours. Melatonin acts as receptors to encourage sleep and your brain uses light to regulate our body clock also known as the circadian rhythms, and light also affects our mood and so the less light we receive in the winter has shown to impacts our circadian rhythm and mood. Scientists have developed light treatments called ‘full spectrum’ light which can act as natural light and act as antidepressants. There are many products on the market which claim to aid better circadian rhythm.
With consistent use, light therapy may help reset your circadian rhythms and improve your sleep, which in turn improve your mood and energy level.
In some cases, a change in sleep hygiene (i.e., putting in place good practice to induce sleep or minimize the likelihood of disturb sleep), can help. This could mean reducing or eliminating screens at least 2 hours before bed, implement calming or relaxing activities such as reading, journal writing, meditation and critically, ensuring activities in your daily routine count towards your sleep-inducing points (i.e., reduce caffeine intake, avoid late meals, and drink appropriate amounts of water).
2. Listen to your inner thoughts
It is difficult to hear but the truth is you are the architect of your mindset and wellbeing, so take responsibility. Your thoughts dictate how you feel, so fight the urge to feel sorry for yourself. It is natural to feel down from time to time but acknowledge that mood, validate it and try to move forward. Dwelling on how bad things are will not change them.
3. Talk it out
Find someone to discuss or speak to about how you feel. This can be a friend, a colleague, partner, or a professional such as a counsellor. Often voicing our feeling and frustrations can ease the tension we feel or the loneliness to deal with our inner thoughts and worries.
Another surprising effect of talking to others is the ability to reflect and untangle our sense of doom or catastrophe. Airing our thoughts helps us hear what at times can be the irrational and unnecessary sense of panic. So, reach out to someone and make it clear how you are feeling but once this is done be prepared to move forward to the next step.
4. Take action
This does not have to be a big dramatic change, it can be as little as getting out of bed to brush your teeth and getting out of your pyjamas or doing 10 minutes of stretching.
When working with clients who find they struggle with morning motivation and energy levels, I ask them to outline five rescue actions.
I call this the Rescue Ladder, starting at the bottom of the ladder and working your way up.
High energy activity: i.e. Exercise / Meditation / Work / Socialise
i.e. Take a shower
i.e. Make a drink
i.e. Change clothes
Low energy: i.e. Brush teeth / Say affirmations
This rescue list will differ from person to person, and the time in which the actions are taken can range from 30 minutes to a whole day, dependent on how severe the individual’s depressive state.
However, being able to change our state is a start to changing our mindset.
5. Seek medical help
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may not be able to implement any of the suggestions reflected above and if this is the case then I would recommend you speak to your doctor. Like other types of depression, your treatment may require antidepressant medication. Antidepressants work by increasing levels of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Serotonin and noradrenaline are neurotransmitters linked to mood and emotion.
In addition to medication, your doctors may ask you to seek support through counselling or coaching, as the additional help may tackle negative self-talk and motivation. Counselling can be used as a preventive rather than just a reactive solution, so taking steps now may help you put in place healthier habits to reduce your propensity to suffer from SAD.
If you are struggling or concerned about someone who may be showing signs of SAD or any other mental health concerns please seek help and advice from a professional body, charity, mental health adviser, your local GP or contact me at Kemi@wellnesslink.co.uk.
Kemi Fadero is a Wellbeing Consultant,
Counsellor & Coach based in Cambridge, UK. Kemi works with individuals seeking to achieve balance in their lives. Her interest in wellbeing and coaching came after taking steps herself to improve her wellbeing and reduce the strain of juggling life as a corporate executive and running a household filled with three lively children. She noticed the increased demands of modern life on herself, her family, colleagues and friends. She decided to seek balance for herself and in the process found a love for helping others through Counselling, and her passion for holistic wellbeing. From her Cambridge, UK studio, she offers virtual and in-person coaching and counselling services, helping individuals seeking to overcome emotional distress and wellbeing challenges.