10 ways to beat the January blues

Going for a long walk can clear mind and body. Picture: Scott Louden
Going for a long walk can clear mind and body. Picture: Scott Louden
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THE festivities are over, your belly is oozing over your waistband and surely that new shirt has shrunk in the wash because it’s suddenly feeling just that bit too tight.

The credit card has melted, there’s glitter wedged deep into the carpet that no super suction January sales Dyson will ever shift. And while it seemed a great idea to sign up for an alcohol-free month, now your Dryathlon is here, it’s utter torture.

Yes, it’s January, the most miserable, dreary, soul-
destroying, pathetic month of the entire year.

Most of us hit the start of the year with a self-pitying dose of the blues, the result of too much partying, a spend, spend, spend session that flipped the overdraft into the danger zone and a sudden ­realisation that we’re another year further from our youth with not that much to show for it. In terms of relationships, it’s the month we’re more likely to file for divorce, and the month when your partner is most likely to take that Christmas party snog and turn it into a full-blown affair.

And thanks to endless ­holiday adverts on television, it’s when we’re most likely to look at our finances and wonder if we can stretch to a weekend in Scarborough.

But while most of us labour under a dose of the January blues, others hit the month engulfed with dark moods and suffocating misery – SAD is now a recognised condition, thought to be linked to reduced sunlight which tinkers with the brain’s chemicals leaving sufferers battling strong symptoms of depression which often require ­professional help.

Chartered psychologist Prof essor Ewan Gillon, clinical director of First Psychology Scotland, says January often leaves many in a post-festive slump.

“It’s winter, it’s dark, the magic and excitement is past and spring is a long way off,” he says. “It’s difficult for many people. But there’s a ­difference between feeling low at the start of January and feeling ­depressed.

“If the level of your mood is flat and low for a long period or if finding yourself thinking there is no point in living or seeing life as pointless and bleak, then speak to a GP.

“Others find their mood is affected by the seasons – Seasonal Affective Disorder is linked to the deprivation of light in the winter months. Some find going out when it’s light and getting some sunshine when it’s available helps. Others find light lamps useful. “The key is learning your own patterns and habits.”

However if it is ‘just’ a bad case of the January blues that’s getting you down then chin up, help is at hand. And February really isn’t that far off . . .

GET OUT

Go for a walk, breathe in some fresh air and soak up the Edinburgh sights which others travel from around the world to see. Take inspiration from Dr Andrew Murray – the ultra-marathon runner preparing to run the Namib desert – who has recently been named President of Ramblers Scotland.

“There’s not only health benefits but social benefits to getting out there in the hills or in the towns,” he says. “There’s so much opportunity in Scotland to get out and go for a walk.” The organisation’s website www.ramblers.co.uk/scotland has a mass of information about walks and meetings.

BODY BOOST

December’s excesses take a toll on our bodies, too much booze, sugar and fatty nosh leaves our system sluggish and in desperate need of some time out. Head to Napiers herbalists in Bristo Square for pick-me-up tonics such as their Complete Winter Support Package (£55) which includes slow release vitamin C, Napiers Wintertime Blend which combines Elder Berry, Echinacea, Rose and Ginger tinctures and warming Wintertime Herbal Tea. If you’re giving your system a complete break, Napier’s Detox Formula (£12) will help the body reboot. Try an immune supporting supplement such as Holland & Barrett’s Time Release Busy B Complex with Vitamin C (£7.49 for 30) which help fight tiredness. Vitamin D supplements can help get us through these dark days – try Holland and Barrett’s FSC Vitamin D (£3.49 for 60)

SHAPE UP

That six-pack won’t reveal itself without at least a few crunches. Edinburgh Leisure has just published its January to April fitness class schedule – everything from Metafit to beginners pilates, yoga and new Les Mills virtual classes, big screen workouts which take place in Craiglockhart and EICA Ratho. Check www.edinburghleisure.co.uk for details.

HAVE A LAUGH

Laughter really is the best medicine, so get yourself down to The Stand comedy club in York Place, where every night promises if not constant full-on belly laughs, at least a few sympathetic chuckles at the expense of the Monday night Red Raw open mic newbies.

SORT IT OUT

Clutter in our homes seems so much worse post-Christmas. Now is the time to batter in and get rid of the things you really no longer need, agrees Jane-Marie Smith whose Simple Living Edinburgh (www.simplelivingedinburgh.com) service guides clients through the mayhem of decluttering their homes. “Just think to yourself ‘Do I need all these things? When was the last time I wore that? Do the children still play with these toys?’,” she says. “And then take them away. It’s much easier when things are simple, there is less tidying up, less cleaning around it all, so you have more time and energy for other things.”

She suggests a 30-day challenge: list 30 separate areas of your home, from a sock drawer to a hall cupboard, and resolve to tackle each one over the course of a month. “It helps to make a list of key places that need attention and work your way through. It helps to have a friend or family member there, especially if you struggle to decide what to keep and what to lose.”

EAT IT

Avoid like the plague those vile chill cabinet low-fat meals which supermarkets seem determined to force feed us at this time of year and opt instead for real food which, shock-horror, you might even cook yourself. Stock up on fresh foods rich in immune supporting ­nutrients such as vitamin C like citrus fruits, broccoli, sprouts and berries. Boost your zinc intake with eggs, lamb, oats and rye and stock up on good oils in fresh salmon, mackerel, haddock and nuts and seeds. If you can steer off the processed nosh, alcohol and sugar for a bit, your body will be grateful.

BE GRATEFUL

You have the blues, but remember there are folk out there who don’t have a roof over their head or a meal to look forward to. It’s easy to see the negatives in life and forget what we have. Throw your energy instead into supporting those in need – even if it’s just buying lunch from Social Bite, where the profits go to good causes and you can leave a donation towards its suspended coffee and meal initiative. Or volunteer to help a group or charity. Search www.volunteer
edinburgh.org.uk for inspiration.

TALK IT THROUGH

Most of us have a mid-winter slump, so chatting about how you feel can help shift those feelings of isolation. Make January the time to join a new club or finally get around to calling or visiting friends or relatives who have drifted away over the year. Just a chat over the garden fence or at the Post Office can be enough to lift the spirits. Making new friends can be hard if you’re older, which is why Age Concern launched Silver Line, a help and support line which provides information, friendship and advice. It is available on 0800 4 70 80 90.

SET YOURSELF CHALLENGES

New Year is a great time to look to a different future.

But Prof Gillon of First Psychology Scotland (www.firstpsychology.co.uk) says it’s best to keep your goals to a minimum or risk disappointment. “Unrealistic targets – like eating only salad all month – are likely to end in failure, which just makes us feel worse. Break your targets down into ‘microsteps’ and you’re more likely to achieve.”

If-self improvement is your goal, there are dozens of distance learning courses that can be done in your free time over the internet, check out www.futurelearn.com. If you like to write, give a blog a go. Or snap happy with your smart phone and join the Instagram community. For the more active, sign up for the Great Winter Run, a 5k trot around Queen’s Park this Saturday, January 10. Visit www.greatrun.org.

DITCH THE DEBTS

Stuffing bills into the kitchen drawer won’t make them go away.

According to debt charity StepChange, Edinburgh and the Lothians has seen a huge rise in personal debt and the biggest increase in council tax arrears in Scotland. Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has also confirmed the rising debt problem and warned payday loan firms are not the solution.

Instead, talk through your ­financial issues with CAS representatives or check out www.adviceguide.org.uk/scotland.