15 ways to banish the winter blues
As Aware launches DAWN Week, we talk to the depression support group's Bríd O'Meara on ways to beat the gloom many of us battle at this time of year
Experiencing a wave of the New Year blues? January is a gloomy time for most people, so it's no surprise that the depression support group Aware has chosen this month to kick off DAWN Week, its annual national campaign highlighting depression and bipolar disorder.
The theme of the 2016 campaign is 'Stand up for Surviving'. On the first day of DAWN Week, Aware's director of services Bríd O'Meara gives some insights on how to beat those January blues.
1 Have Fun with Friends
"Anything which interferes with my social life is a no-no," the late, great Cilla Black once memorably declared.
"Keep your social connections alive when Christmas and the New Year are over and the celebrations have died down," advises O'Meara, who says that while we often retire indoors to the warmth of our homes during January and February, it's important to mix. "Being sociable can be one of the best ways to boost your mood. Stay in touch. Pick up the phone and make plans to spend time with friends and family."
2 Buy a Ticket, Book a Flight
Plan something to look forward to later in the year.
Now is the time to buy tickets to a play, concert or to organise a holiday.
"This is about long-term term anticipation; it's about having something to look forward to that will help you get through the winter," says O'Meara. Just knowing that you've got something to look forward to in the future to can lift your mood, she says.
3 Watch 'Making A Murderer' earlier!
A good night's sleep requires preparation! "Be conscious about the need to prepare to sleep," advises O'Meara.
Remember - late-night consumption of caffeine and rich foods can damage your chances of good-quality rest.
Try a brisk walk before sleep - and ban your laptop, tablet and smartphone from the bedroom. Using these devices will stimulate your brain and make it more difficult for you to sleep.
And while you may be a fan of Netflix blockbuster Making a Murderer, it's not a good idea to stay up late watching the popular series, says O'Meara.
"Don't watch thrillers late at night - they can stimulate the brain. This is very much an anecdotal piece of advice, but it's something we hear about in Aware - watching such films before bed can put you on edge of your seat, which is not conducive to a good night's rest!"
4 Chase The Light
We know there's not much sunshine around this time of year - but even natural daylight provides a big boost.
"There's a feel-good factor around experiencing natural light and engaging with nature," explains O'Meara.
So get out and about as much as you can at weekends - and try to get some natural sunlight during the working week too. It's tempting to spend your entire lunch break in a warm canteen with your buddies, but try getting out and availing of sunlight and fresh air - you'll feel the benefits!
5 Have a Golden Moment
Plan something you enjoy into your daily routine.
Meet a friend for a drink or just take the dog for a walk! "If your mood is low and you're trying to get through the day, knowing that something enjoyable is waiting for you can help - the anticipation of this small pleasure can lighten your mood," explains O'Meara.
6 Be Nice To You
Would we treat a friend as harshly as we sometimes treat ourselves?
We often find it easier to be kind to others than to ourselves, O'Meara explains.
So for 2016, practise acts of kindness to yourself.
"By showing ourselves the compassion and kindness we'd show to others, we're turning things round so that we're actually treating ourselves as we would treat others. It's very much a case of do unto ourselves as we would do unto others!"
7 What You Do Affects How You Feel
Be aware of how your behaviour impacts on your mood.
Is there something nagging you - that you keep putting off doing?
Such things tend to hang over us, says O'Meara, who advises: "Get it done! Are you the type who sets the clock for 30 minutes before you're supposed to wake - and who then repeatedly hits the snooze button every five minutes? Stop!
"You're missing out on half-an-hour's good quality sleep and you're also engaging in a repetitive motion which is not a positive way to start the day.
"You may also find that you're more reluctant to get up than if you'd set the alarm for the right time and gotten out of bed straight away," she says, adding that by the time you've hit the snooze button four or five times in a row, you can end up feeling quite irritated. "This is about thinking about the link between what you do and how it makes you feel!"
8 Find a Hobby
Develop an indoor hobby for the cold, wet months - it's important to have ideas for indoor entertainment - try baking, Scrabble, jigsaws, sewing or reading, as long as it's an enjoyable activity you can look forward to on a regular basis which doesn't require you to go out into the cold, miserable weather.
9 Be Realistic
If you've made a New Year resolution, manage your expectations. Avoid setting yourself up for failure.
You've never even jogged but now you're aiming to do a whole marathon?
Remember; you must walk before you can run. Start with walking and build up your fitness levels - and research your chosen exercise to ensure you know what you're doing!
If you haven't made any resolutions, don't beat yourself up, says O'Meara. "You can make new plans at any time - just consider what you'd like to change."
10 Practise an Act of Kindness every day
It's well-known that offering our time and energy to those we care about, especially when we help them through their own difficult times, can bring us benefits too.
"Performing an act of kindness for somebody else distracts us from focusing on our own difficulties and results in us feeling better about ourselves," explains O'Meara. However, if this becomes onerous it's not a good tool to use - it has to be easy to do, not another source of stress.
Regular exercise really does lift your mood, and reduce stress and anxiety. On top of that, it improves physical health and energy levels.
But don't get the wrong impression, cautions O'Meara. "Some people think this is about cycling 50k or joining a gym - what we're talking about here is a 15-minute walk at lunchtime, choosing to walk up the stairs instead of getting into a lift, or enjoying a game of golf at the weekend."
12 Eat Well
It's hard, because there's been much over-consumption throughout the Christmas and early January holiday period - and let's face it; you probably indulged those bad habits.
However, it's time to acknowledge that the food you eat can have an effect, not only on your physical health but your mental health too.
Food and drinks containing high levels of sugar and caffeine may give you a temporary boost, says O'Meara, but will lead to a slump in energy and mood later on. Avoid consuming lots of sugar, caffeine and processed foods and instead shift our focus to healthy eating.
13 Keep a Gratitude Journal
Take time every day to write down three things that you're grateful for - fine weather, your baby slept for six hours at a stretch - and enjoy the positive impact on your mood.
"That's because you're focusing on what went well today and on what you are thankful for," explains O'Meara. By acknowledging what's good in your life you feel better!
14 Practise Slow Breaths
When we're in a stressful situation, we may not be breathing properly.
It helps to take a few minutes out of every day to consciously sit up straight and breathe slowly in through the nose and out through the mouth. This is a simple mechanism which has a calming effect on you and on your day.
"Even doing it for as little as three breaths at a time a few times during the day can impact on your mood," says O'Meara.
Try it for five minutes, three times a day if possible - and watch that positive impact.
Don't forget to ask for help if you need it - and to accept help that's offered.
Despite the fact that mental health is discussed much more in the media nowadays, there are still a lot of people who find it difficult to ask for help.
AWARE provides a number of key services which have proven to be effective over several years.
"These research-based services are freely available and we encourage anyone experiencing low mood to avail of them," says O'Meara."All 15 points I have mentioned can help to beat the challenging thoughts and feelings we can have at this time of year.
"However, if you are experiencing symptoms of depression for a number of weeks or more, please contact your GP for further advice."
* The DAWN awareness campaign (Depression Awareness Week Nationwide) starts today and runs until Friday, January 22, via Aware's online channels (see below). Aware also offers a support line and support mail service (1890 303 302; firstname.lastname@example.org).
www.aware.ie f: AwareIreland
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