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Winter Blues Maybe But Forget about Blue Monday

Created  in 2005 by a holiday company trying to find new ways of selling winter breaks, ‘Blue Monday‘ is the third Monday of January, so chosen because of its distance from Christmas, traditional cold weather and general feelings of malaise that abound during the beginning of the year. Add in credit card bills plus a dose of self inflicted guilt from (perhaps unrealistic)  new year resolutions long since broken and you have a perfect storm of events leading to ‘winter blues.’

While the concept of Blue Monday is a completely made-up phenomenon that trivialises the idea of genuine depression and mood disorders, the idea itself has caught hold.

The truth is that while there is absolutely no science to back up the idea of a specific ‘Blue Monday‘, many of us do feel low at this time of the year.

It’s a time of when many people are feeling extra down, particularly in countries like Ireland which are a long way from the equator and don’t get a lot of sunlight at this time of the year.

So what are the winter blues, and how do we know if we suffer from them?

A lot of people suffer from what’s called winter blues. I like to say that a third of the people in Ireland suffer from winter blues and the rest of the people are in denial! I think it’s simply that common. Lack of sunlight and natural daylight impacts the brains body clock with reduced levels of various brain chemicals including serotonin levels, which can impact on confidence, self esteem and overall mood.

As well as that, the long nights and short days can result in you making too much melatonin resulting in excessive feelings of sluggishness. In turn this can affect our mood, motivation and overall mojo.

Like many conditions there is a wide spectrum to be aware of. At the more severe end, you have people who are really suffering from clinical depression and they might have marked symptoms of sleep disturbance and persistent low mood, loss of interest in hobbies feelings of guilt, isolation or hopelessness. Symptoms like these always require professional support from your physician or trained therapist.

At the milder end of the spectrum, we might see people suffering from low energy, tiredness, oversleeping, changes in the appetite like craving carbohydrates, gaining weight and even feeling heavy in their arms and legs.

These feelings are epidemic in Ireland, and that’s down to the long winter nights changing your circadian rhythm, disturbing your sleep and making you feel more groggy and down. People tend to feel more irritable and more oversensitive.

How to treat winter blues?

The answer for most people is not at the end of a prescription bottle. Rather, we need to address our lifestyle to combat the effect of winter on our bodies. There are lots of useful strategies you can implement to help combat the blues.

#Awareness

It starts with awareness which is extremely important. If you are aware that you or somebody close to you is suffering, it can give you the clarity to take action. Knowledge is power to take effective action.

#Exercise

Regular exercise is a fantastic way to boost our mood, and can help to realign sleeping patterns during the shorter days of the year. In addition exercise is a great natural stress buster. 

While we know that simply taking 10,000 steps a day is key to overall health, you need to move as well. Get up and walk around every hour if you are sitting at a desk all day, get outdoors if you can. Have your coffee break outside or take a short walk at lunchtime. Get some rays, soak in some sunlight even if it’s a day that’s cloudy. It all helps!

#Nutrition 

Eating a balanced diet is hugely important at this time of the year. I recommend incorporating good mood food into your daily diet during winter months to boost mood and reset the body clock.

Simply eat more food that is good for you. Specifically in terms of mood, omega 3 fats are extremely helpful. These fats can be found in nuts, seeds, oily fish, free-range eggs, kale. Feed your microbiome (the 50 trillion or so bugs that live in your gut) that’s now recognised to produce the majority of the body’s happiness boosting hormone -serotonin. Eat lots of prebiotics (green vegetables and fibre) AND probiotics like Greek yogurt and fermented foods like kefir.

#Sleep

Getting enough restorative sleep is so important for your health and wellbeing is so many ways. For most people that means at least seven and a half to eight hours per night. Ensure  you have a good sleep routine and keep technology out of your bedroom!

#Environment

The environment you work and live in as well as the inner environment — that is the environment between our ears — have  a huge impact on your health and wellbeing each and every day. Your physical health is very much connected to your emotional wellbeing and your psychological fitness. What I mean by this is that what you choose to think about and the emotions you feel impact on your actions, habits, and behaviours. As well as that the environments you spend your time in impact on how you think and feel.

#Vitamin D

Many people in Ireland lack vitamin D which is activated via sun exposure in the skin.and I often recommend a vitamin D supplement. It’s hard to get enough vitamin D in your diet even if you eat a lot of salmon and mushrooms.  

#Connect with others 

A lot of people tend to go back into their shell when they are feeling depressed or sluggish. It’s almost a primitive hibernation — retreating back into our cave during winter months. Don’t go back into your cave alone! Reach out and find your tribe. We are social creatures. The best way to boost your happiness is to focus on someone else, to reach out and support others. A problem shared is a problem halved; it’s good to talk.

#Be kinder to yourself.

Perhaps a great habit to build in 2018 is to be kinder to yourself. By that I mean really investing in your own self – care and overall wellbeing. Getting to know and understand yourself that little bit better. Committing to be that little bit better to yourself. Understanding that far from being  selfish, this is s gift to you and everyone that matters in your life. 

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