January Blues

The third Monday in January (16) has become known as Blue Monday, or the most depressing day of the year, due to a combination of poor weather, the post-Christmas blues, and mounting debt. Whether or not this is the most depressing day of the year, January can be one the months most associated with a low mood and the disorder known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Symptoms of SAD may consist of difficulty sleeping or difficulty waking up in the morning, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, irritability, and withdrawal from friends, family, and social activities; all of which can lead on to depression and a feeling of hopelessness. Here Dr Abbie Lane a consultant psychiatrist from the stress clinic based at Saint John of God Hospital, a leading provider of mental health services and treatments in Ireland, offers some advice on dealing with the disorder:

Keep busy and active: “If you experience some of the symptoms of SAD it is important to engage in pleasurable activities during the winter months. Develop a repertoire of wintertime leisure interests; join an exercise class, take a language course, volunteer locally or join a club.”

Use the daylight we do have: “Make sure to spend as much time outdoors during the daylight hours as possible. Make a habit of taking a 30 minute walk at lunch time and when indoors keep curtains open during the day and move furniture to position yourself near a window.”

Avoid temptations: “When at home resist sleeping too much and eating unhealthy junk food, these are temptations that accompany SAD that are not good for your long-term well-being. Try to keep to a daily routine, even at weekends, and be careful about how much alcohol you consume.”

Try mindfulness: “Use meditation to increase your awareness of negative thoughts. Focus on awareness techniques, such as deep breathing, to bring your attention back to the present. Gradually you will begin to observe your thought processes rather than reacting to it, relieving feelings of negativity.”

Use problem solving techniques: “If you feel worried or anxious during January create a list of problems, identify possible solutions, choose the best solutions, create a plan to implement them and then evaluate the outcomes with respect to the problem.”

Share your problems: “If you experience any of the symptoms of SAD confide in a friend or loved one. Talk to someone. If you are faced with persistent anxiety or low moods, severe sleep or appetite disturbance, a constant feeling of guilt, hopelessness or unworthiness then seek professional assistance.”

Remember there is hope: “No matter how bad things can appear, chart your progress in a small diary and each day look at three positive things about yourself and three positive things that you have done – and that can include getting out of bed.”