I’ve never been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) but there’s some elements of the disorder, sometimes known as “winter depression”, that clouds my winter months. A slightly low mood, wanting to stay in bed longer, craving stodgy comfort food and longing for the sunnier Spring months – I think it’s something we all suffer from to an extent in cold, dark January. It’s my least favourite month of them all. So I’ve gathered all my tried-and-tested tips and tricks for beating the January blues – to help us all get through the grey days and dark evenings.
1. Mind over matter
Mindfulness is all about slowing down, re-focusing and de-stressing. At first it may seem like a bit of a fad, or some hippy concept, but by simply concentrating on your breathing and being aware of what’s going on around you, you can let go of those little everyday stresses. It might be that you take 10-15 minutes to do some meditation (I love the headspace app, it has different packs focusing on everything from self-esteem to relationships, creativity and generosity) or being aware with real attention on whatever you’re doing – savouring every mouthful of dinner instead of gulping it down, or enjoying a tea break for what it is instead of flicking through your phone and constantly thinking you have to be doing something. Mindfulness colouring books are also having a moment, perhaps it’s something about being creative and indulging that inner child in you…
2. The sunshine vitamin
I’ve been really struggling with getting up in the dark, I just can’t seem to find the motivation when it’s cold and looks like the middle of the night outside – I don’t know how the Scandinavians do it?! Coupled with sitting inside, chained to a desk all day and returning once again in the dark, it’s no wonder the lack of feel-good sunshine can have such a huge effect on the mood. That’s where Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, comes in. It’s well-known for lifting mood and wellbeing, but the only problem is we get most of our vitamin D from sunlight on our skin, and there’s certainly not much of that around at the moment. A couple of years ago my mum and I were at a b&b in France where the host kept going on and on about vitamin D, waxing lyrical about how it was the miracle cure for all manner of illnesses and conditions. At the time we thought he was quite mad, but recently I’ve seen it all over the media, on cereal packets and in magazines – the ‘it’ vitamin of the moment you could say.
Take a food supplement in the darker months (I sprinkle flaxseed with added vit D on my cereal or porridge in the morning so I don’t have to remember to take a tablet) or stock up on mushrooms, the only vegetable that is high in the stuff. Top tip: even just by taking mushrooms out of the packet and placing them in the sun for an hour or so can increase your intake of that mood-boosting wonder vitamin!
3. Treat yourself!
The most important one here. If you’re having a dull, boring week and looking forward to the weekend, find little ways to treat yourself and give yourself a pat on the back. It might be a good quality bar of chocolate to indulge on the sofa, spending time over the stove preparing a delicious meal for you and a friend, or buying your favourite magazine to pour over at the weekend. After all, sales of lipsticks saw a boom in the recession – we sometimes all need a little something to cheer ourselves up.
4. You are what you eat
Instead of stodgy carbs and heavy meals that make you want to hit the sack straight after eating them, I’m trying to eat a bit more healthier to boost my energy levels in the darker months. But in order for something to be sustainable I believe there has to be some element of joy in it, not just calorie counting and sad bowls of boring salad – there are some tasty alternatives out there to yummy, sugary things we all reach for…
I’ve just got a NutriBullet for Christmas, for example, (I’m now obsessed with it!) and a smoothie each morning is filling my day with a little ray of sunshine, packed with fresh, zingy fruit and lots of vitamins. I’m still experimenting but some taste like gelato you might dream of having in the summer. I’ve also discovered raw cacao (hello chocolate smoothies), a healthier alternative to it’s over processed cousin cocoa. Cacao has lots of antioxidants and is rich in magnesium, iron, potassium and copper. It’s also a natural mood booster, and not just because it tastes so good! I’m mixing it in with porridge and even blitzing it with frozen bananas and maple syrup to create guilt-free ice cream. Or for a little energy boost I’m spreading almond nut butter on to crackers and topping with apple or fudgy medjool dates, and drinking lots of restorative green tea instead of endless cups of coffee.
In case you missed it, you can also find a delicious recipe for gluten-free, dairy-free overnight oats and chia seeds (one teaspoon of these babies kept the Aztec warriors going for 24 hours…) with orange, apple and blueberries from Monday’s post.
5. Home comforts
Make your home somewhere nice to come back to in the dark evenings, it will give you something to look forward to during the day if you’ve been out battling the cold wind and rain. Add a cosy blanket to the sofa (I got this grey wool blanket from The Future Kept for Christmas, I love that the colour is called Perfect Grey…), light a scented candle to fill the house with relaxing aromas, or stock up on piles of magazines and books to read when the weather really is too filthy to go outside.
It’s also amazing what a clear-out and de-clutter can to do refresh the home, especially in January when we’ve got rid of all the Christmas decorations and suddenly everything’s looking a bit sad and bare. Even just rearranging a shelf or buying a new house plant can help you see things from a new perspective.
6. Let’s go outside
As much as it’s nice to bunker down and hibernate in winter, it’s still good for the soul to get out and about. Sometimes I wish I lived by the sea, there’s nothing like a blustery walk to blow the cobwebs away, I always find you don’t really want to go, but are so glad you did by the end. In London, I try to discover different neighbourhoods to change it up a bit and seek out new coffee haunts. If you’re looking for interesting things to do in London that aren’t on the tourist trail, do have a look at my favourites, A Little Bird and Great Little Place.
7. Goals that aren’t chores
I hate New Year’s resolutions, because let’s face it, most of the time we never keep them. Instead of depriving and restricting ourselves with things we’ll never stick to, sometimes it’s good to have smaller, more bite-size goals that won’t be a chore, but enjoyable and a bit more creative! For example, you could decide to try a new recipe every week, make something with your hands every month or read a new book every month. That way they’ll be both fun (hopefully) and you’ll always be learning something new. The lesson here is that change can sometimes be good, but don’t make it too much of a challenge, and don’t be too hard on yourself.
So I really hope you have enjoyed my tips for beating the January blues, and would love to know, do you have any tricks that help you through the winter months?
All images: cate st hill