How to beat the January blues

At this time of year many of us struggle, often with getting out of bed in the morning. The seasonal darkness teaches us good and bad lessons and it's up to us to choose how we use them. Picture: PA
At this time of year many of us struggle, often with getting out of bed in the morning. The seasonal darkness teaches us good and bad lessons and it's up to us to choose how we use them. Picture: PA
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IT seems no time since we were wishing each other all sorts of happiness and life was one party after the next.

Then, faster than the big wheel in Princes Street Gardens could be dismantled, we were staring at the most miserable few weeks of the year.

Dreary January, with its sucker punch Blue Monday thrown in – when our festive bills arrive – feels like one long, painful, black hole.

More people file for divorce in January than at any other time of the year. And it’s the month your partner is most likely to cheat, when that Christmas party naughtiness evolves into a full-blown affair.

Tortured by adverts for holidays we can’t afford, gripped by a starvation diet and fitness regime that would have Mo Farrah gasping for mercy – heck, some have even given up the booze. Is it any wonder we’ve got the January blues?

Of course, it’s easy to dismiss it as a post-Christmas slump that vanishes by pay day. But could your miserable mood be more than just a bout of the blues?

A new survey by the Depression Alliance suggests one in two of us has been affected by full-blown depression – that’s higher than the official number of one in four.

At the same time, there are fears that many are on anti-depressants when they don’t really need them.

So, is what we’re feeling simply a passing case of the January blues or is it something worse?

IN THE MOOD

Clinical depression is more than just feeling glum. A low mood that persists for more than two weeks, feelings of despair and a lack of interest in things that normally you might enjoy, weight loss or gain, and negative thoughts of harming yourself can signal depression, so visit a professional like your GP for advice.

Professor Ewan Gillon, clinical director of Edinburgh-based First Psychology, says a lingering low mood should not be ignored. “The first step is to help yourself by making small changes in your routine such as ensuring you get outside more, exercise regularly and seek support from friends and family.

“A psychologist, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) expert or counsellor can help you look at why your mood may be so low and allow you to discover ways that might help you feel more positive. Seeking professional help can feel like a big step, but it’s vital if your mood remains low or gets worse,” he stresses.

SADDER THAN SAD

Yes, we’re all a bit “sad” when we see that post-Christmas credit card bill but SAD is more than just feeling glum.

SAD is believed to affect around two million in the UK, and is thought to be linked to the reduced sunlight which affects the brain’s chemicals.

“Many feel a bit less energetic during the winter months which is often called winter depression,” says Prof Gillon. “Its more severe form, seasonal affective disorder, can lead to strong symptoms of depression and some people may need professional help.”

Fight it with vitamin D supplements, which our body produces naturally when we spend time in the sun. Viridian D3 400iu (£10.95 for 90 capsules) is available from herbalist Napiers in Bristo Place. Boost vitamin D in the diet by chomping on oily fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel along with eggs and fortified cereals and margarines.

A GP might prescribe anti-depressants which can increase the level of “happy chemical” Serotonin in the brain. However, many SAD sufferers look to the light – artificial light boxes which aim to trick the brain to naturally produce vital chemicals to help raise the mood.

JANUARY BLUES

Okay, you’re just feeling a bit low, which is bad enough. Prof Gillon says there are various measures to help raise our spirits, from making sure we spend at least some of our day outdoors in daylight, to taking up regular exercise.

“Work in a well-lit environment close to a window,” he adds. “And talk to family and friends – making time to meet friends lightens your mood.”

Booking a week away in the sun or even redecorating the house can help, he adds.

GO NATURAL

UK sales of anti-depressants have increased at a rate of 10 per cent every year – despite the side effects and risks. Chris Dowrick, professor of primary medical care at Liverpool University, believes GPs may be prescribing anti-depressants when the real problem is sadness or grief. “These pills won’t work for people with mild depression, or who are sad, but they have side effects and we are seeing patients becoming reliant on drugs they do not need.”

Non-addictive Schwabe Karma Mood St John’s Wort extract (Napiers £10.20 for 30) is said to relieve the symptoms of slightly low mood and mild anxiety. Or soothe anxiety away with Napiers Stress Relief Pack (£19.95), with two bottles of Valerian Tincture – a quick-acting treatment for anxiety and stress, a tube of Lavender Gel, and bottle of Relaxing Essential Oil to help soothe away worries.

CALL DR WEB

There are online options to get you through the blues. Thinkwell (www.thinkwell.co.uk) provides the chance to “speak” confidentially to a UK accredited CBT specialist using instant messaging on their computer, smartphone or tablet.

According to Sarah Bateup, clinical lead for PsychologyOnline, which runs the service: “The act of answering a therapist’s questions by text is extremely beneficial. This can often result in ‘lightbulb’ type realisations that can bring more rapid resolution to problems. By having this moment recorded in a transcript the benefit is captured and can be accessed whenever required.”

EAT YOURSELF BETTER

Some believe depression is linked to inflammation within the body – and boosting our immune systems by eating better could be the first step in the battle to feeling better.

Nutritionist Erin McCann suggests a diet rich in immune support nutrients like vitamin C – citrus fruit, broccoli, sprouts and berries - and zinc from eggs, lamb, oats and rye, plus supplements, exercise and good rest.

“Reduce sugar, alcohol, processed foods, and take-aways. Increase essential fatty acids by eating fresh oily fish like wild salmon, mackerel, haddock, eating raw nuts and seeds, and cooking with coconut oil as an alternative to butter or margarine,” she adds.

An immune supporting supplement such as Bee Prepared Immune Support, which contains bee propolis, olive leaf and beta flucans, is designed to help modulate the immune system. Find it at Holland and Barrett (£11.99 for 20 capsules).

PLAY AT IT

The American Psychological Association has suggested certain video games could hold the key to helping identify and deal with depression.

In Depression Quest, players take on challenges and play as someone who has depression, helping gamers identify issues and feel less isolated.

Award-winning 3D fantasy computer game SPARX is aimed at young people who are experiencing negative feelings. It has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. There apps to download onto phones or tablets – from ones claiming to help identify whether you are suffering from depression or the blues, to others offering exercise programmes and self help guides.