Feeling flat? You’re not alone. The colder, darker months can get you down, but there are ways to lift your spirits…
1. Head for the light
It’s natural to feel like staying indoors where it’s warm, but spending too much time inside under artificial lights can affect your hormone levels and flatten your mood. The lack of fresh air doesn’t help, either. According to Dr Steve Ilardi, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Kansas, getting outside for at least half an hour a day (preferably an hour or two) during sunlight hours, especially early in the morning, will boost your mood. Even if it’s cloudy, the natural light helps to set your body clock and regulate levels of serotonin (the ‘happy hormone’) and melatonin (the ‘sleep hormone’), which influence your energy and mood. If you’re indoors, keep the curtains wide open and sit near the window to maximise the number of hours of natural daylight you experience.
2. Start making plans for 2015
Once Christmas is out of the way, it’s easy to feel fl at if you’ve got nothing to look forward to. So take time out to plan a few enjoyable activities and set goals for the coming year – it will make you feel energised and optimistic. Why not consider taking up a new hobby, keeping a journal or trying a new sport? Or how about thinking up a different fun activity for every weekend until summer? Organising a holiday is another great way to lift your mood – either a winter break to get away from it all; or a summer holiday to look forward to. Start dreaming about that Caribbean beach right now…
3. Get some herbal help
A herbal remedy, such as St John’s wort (from all good pharmacies) can help alleviate a low mood. A review of 29 trials by the health organisation, Cochrane Collaboration, showed it to be as effective as antidepressants for mild depression and anxiety.
However, check with your doctor first, as St John’s wort confl icts with some medications, including the Pill, and makes you more prone to sunburn (which isn’t good if you’re planning a winter sun holiday to cheer you up).
4. Eat right
When you’re low, it’s tempting to reach for sugary snacks and comforting puddings – but after giving you a blood sugar boost, they soon plunge you into a dip, leaving you feeling worse than ever. Eating healthy, low-GI foods which release their energy slowly will help to keep your mood steady – choose wholegrains and vegetables, and stay away from refi ned carbs, sweets and biscuits. Certain nutrients have been shown to raise your mood, too. These include selenium (found in Brazil nuts, meat and eggs), omega-3 fatty acids (in oily fi sh, walnuts and seeds), vitamin D (in oily fi sh, eggs and fortifi ed cereals) and tryptophan (in turkey, chicken and beans). If you’re concerned you’re not getting enough from your diet, simply take a multivitamin and an omega-3 supplement. You should also avoid alcohol and excess caffeine – they may boost your mood quickly for a short time, but they’re ultimately depressants.
5. Don’t neglect your social life
According to Dr Ilardi, ‘social connectedness’ is essential for happiness, and one of the most effective ways of warding off low moods. ‘Human beings are not designed to be socially isolated,’ he says. At this time of year, you tend to rush home after work instead of going out with friends.
Instead, make an effort to spend quality time with the people you love, chatting, sharing news and laughing. If you don’t fancy venturing out, take it in turns to host gatherings at home instead, eating home-cooked food and relaxing in a cosy lounge. It will really help to lift your spirits.
6. Offload stress
Christmas should be a fun time of year, but trying to get the shopping and preparations done, attend numerous functions and mediate family feuds on the big day can make December the most pressured month of the year. Simply try some strategic planning to lessen the load.
Get all your gift shopping out of the way early. Plan the big day ahead of time and delegate tasks to other people. Try to resolve any family tensions ahead of the holiday. And pace yourself with parties – you don’t have to go to them all and it means you won’t be burned out by the end of the year.