So here we are, halfway through January. How are you feeling?
For many of us, it’s a severe case of dragging ourselves through January and the post-Christmas slump. This feeling can easily seep into February as we limp towards spring and a brighter dawn (literally).
Adding insult to injury, we now have ‘Blue Monday’ looming on the 21st of January, labelled as the most gloomy day of the year. While the science behind it is somewhat shady, it does highlight how difficult and bleak this time of year can be for many people.
However, fret not, as there are several things you can do to improve your mood and sense of wellbeing during this time of year. In this article, we have listed eight practical ways to help you take control and banish those winter blues.
1) Make any New Year goals realistic
Don’t chastise yourself for not sticking to any unrealistic New Year goals. It’s futile and will only make you feel more low or depressed.
It’s good to set targets and aim for them, but sometimes baby steps are the best way to start. How about establishing some more manageable goals instead? These can set you on the path to your broader, more far-reaching goals.
2) Venture into the daylight
Not only will this help to boost your mood but as light tells your brain to wake up and feel alert, it can also balance your circadian rhythm, improving your sleep/wake cycle.
The best time to expose yourself to daylight is during the morning hours, preferably within an hour of waking. However, if this is a no-go, aim to get out and about in it every day, as much as you can.
3) Take a vitamin D supplement
Winter is a time when our vitamin D levels are most at risk from becoming depleted, particularly in the UK. It’s hard to obtain from food, and we mostly make it ourselves from sun exposure, so now is the time to be taking a high-quality supplement. Several studies have revealed that depressed patients can have significantly low levels of vitamin D and high doses have also been shown to help improve depression symptoms.
If you are concerned that your levels are low, get tested by your GP. Otherwise, Public Health England recommends adults and children over the age of one take over 10mcg of vitamin D daily during the winter months while the Vitamin D Council recommends a supplement of 5000 iu daily.
4) Enjoy brisk walks in nature
Some people find that exercise helps to alleviate stress and boost their mood. Walking is one of the best forms of exercise, keeping you fit and healthy, and a recent study found that it can help increase feelings of positivity while reducing feelings of boredom and dread.
By regularly taking a brisk walk in green open spaces, you can take advantage of the proven ability of nature to prevent and reduce negative thought patterns and feelings of anxiety and stress. Add some calming deep breathing, and some morning exposure to daylight, and you’re off to the races.
5) Eat nutritious food
Eating a rainbow of fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds and healthy protein sources every day will provide lots of mood-boosting, stress-busting nutrients including B vitamins, zinc, magnesium and healthy fats.
According to a 2017 study, every extra vegetable you add to your plate lowers overall stress levels by 5%.
Low levels of omega-3 essential fatty acids EPA and DHA have been linked to depression, and in particular there is robust evidence highlighting the benefits of EPA for depression symptoms.
Together, the EFAs are essential for feeding the brain and improving your mood, alertness and concentration. Eating oily fish three times a week can provide you with adequate amounts, or you could choose to take a daily fish oil supplement. If you are vegan and wish to supplement, you could try taking marine algae.
6) Make sure you drink enough water
Your brain is mainly made up of water, so if you want to feel good, it’s important to stay hydrated. Research has shown that water can produce feelings of calmness and increase positive emotions. Staying adequately hydrated can also positively impact your sleep/wake cycle, and we all know how a bad night’s sleep can negatively affect our mood.
There’s no set amount of water to drink as we are all different with varying needs, but as a general rule aim for two litres or 8 x 8 oz glasses a day.
7) Invest in a dawn simulating wake-up light
Whether you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or not, it can be hard to rouse yourself out of bed on cold, dark winter mornings and, quite frankly, it can often feel rather depressing.
Step in a wake-up light, which studies have shown can have an anti-depressive effect. Wake-up lights works by simulating the dawn and waking you with a gradually brightening light, that can lift your mood and energise you. This one on Amazon has had good reviews.
8) Take regular Epsom Salt baths
Magnesium is nature’s tranquilliser. It helps to calm the nervous system, regulate your mood, improve your response to stress, and ease the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
This wonder mineral can quickly become depleted, and many of us can be low in magnesium at the best of times, let alone in the depths of winter when we’re struggling to stay positive.
A scrumptious soak in Epsom salts a few nights a week can significantly boost your magnesium levels. If you have a bath before bedtime, it can also help to send you off into a calm and blissful sleep.
Just make sure the water is not too hot, and you soak for 40 minutes. If bathing isn’t your thing, try a foot soak instead.
Well, there you have it: eight practical, can-do tips to help you banish those persistent winter blues. Try incorporating one or a couple to start off with, or use trial-by-error to find out which work best for you.
It’s worth remembering that old expression ‘darkest before the dawn’: the relentlessly cold and bleak months can play havoc with our mood and energy levels, but spring is just around the corner. With any luck, these methods of dealing with the January with serve you well in the meantime.
This article was written by Rebecca Rychlik, Nutritional Therapist and Homeopath. Follow Rebecca on Instagram, Facebook and Medium, @rebeccabitesback.
Staying hydrated can positively impact your sleep/wake cycle, and we all know how a bad night’s sleep can negatively affect our mood.