Once Christmas and the New Year’s Eve celebrations are over, it can seem like there’s nothing to look forward to, so it’s no wonder many of us end up feeling down in the dumps at this time of year. “January blues occur for several reasons,” explains Dr Michael Barnish, UK medical director at Reviv Global (revivme.com). “Many of them are mental causes, such as financial pressures, however it’s also partly down to the ways our bodies are designed and how they react to the dark, short days, overindulgence and cold weather. Obviously, managing financial pressures and having something to look forward to in January can help soften the blow but there are measures you can take to counteract those things that we can’t control as much.” So, we’ve rounded up the best advice from nutritionists, doctors, life coaches and more to give you a much-needed lift this January – and there may be some unexpected tips in there, too!
Up your vitamin D intake
“Vitamin D is a super vitamin and we get great doses of it from exposure to sunlight,” says Dr Michael. “The UV rays hit our skin and convert a precursor of vitamin D into the vitamin – this is why vitamin D levels fall during the winter. This vitamin is essential for immunity, brain function, bone health and can banish those general aches and pains that occur during the dark months. Plus, due to its action on brain function, it can lift mood and help ease the January blues. However, during the winter, most people in the UK will have lower levels. We should all, therefore, consider supplementing with this amazing vitamin to keep our bodies working optimally. Always take it following a meal for the best absorption. I would recommend a dose of 2500-5000 iu (international units) daily during the winter months for adults. Foods rich in the vitamin include mackerel, salmon and mushrooms, so add them to your diet. Mushrooms are interesting, as if you put them in sunlight for 15 seconds, they’ll double their vitamin D levels!
Other ways to boost vitamin D levels are to be out and about in the sunshine, even on a cold day. It’s good to get fresh air in the body and being outside can improve low mood.”
Take a nap
“Feeling lethargic during the day is a common symptom of Seasonal Affective Disorder [a type of depression that occurs on a seasonal basis],” explains Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert for Silentnight (silentnight.co.uk). “Learning how to power nap is a great way of beating this. Naps should be between 10 and 20 minutes long and it’s a good idea to take one when you start to feel sleepy or find yourself losing concentration.
Many people have a natural dip in energy levels at around 3pm, making this the ideal time for catching up on some shut-eye.”
Talk it out
“When it’s an overcast, grey day we may feel gloomy and choose to avoid being sociable,” says nutritionist Alix Woods. “However, this may lead to a spiral of negativity. While experiencing prolonged winters and occasional low mood, reaching out and connecting with a friend can improve it instantly. If this is too much, then why not message via text or email and arrange to call, or have them phone you.”
Forget the tech
“Information overload and constant connection can negatively impact your mood,” says Dr Nerina. “While it might be tempting to cuddle up with your iPad this winter, make sure you allow your brain to switch off in the evenings. Avoid social media and emails for 90 minutes before bedtime. Instead, read a book, listen to soothing music and have a bath using calming essential oils. A regular wind down routine like this will reduce feelings of anxiety and allow your mind to relax, ensuring that you get a good night’s sleep and preparing you for the day ahead.”
Try for tryptophan
“Tryptophan is an important amino acid for combating mood and depression,” claims Dr Marilyn Glenville, nutritionist and author of The Natural Health Bible for Women (£15.98, amazon.co.uk). “Your body makes serotonin (the feel-good brain chemical) from tryptophan, which occurs naturally in foods such as dairy products, fish, bananas, dried dates, soya, almonds and peanuts.” Add these foods to your diet for an instant mood boost.
Start a diary
“Chances are that you may have received a diary over Christmas but instead of using it for the usual list of things to do, use it to record your feelings as they happen,” says life coach Stephanie Varda (svardalifecoach.com). “Whether you’re feeling stressed, worried, anxious or sad, write it down and what happened. Doing this can help you to recognise potential stressors that may be causing the January blues. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it can be difficult to pinpoint what exactly the issue is, so the diary can help you to identify and deal with them.”
Get more B vitamins
“B vitamins are essential for the health of the nervous system, and can aid in regulating mood cycles,” explains Dr Michael. “These fantastic vitamins can help to give a natural boost to the nervous system and mood and sleep patterns, helping to soften the impact of the January blues. Supplementing with a B complex is a great way to boost your levels. They’re great for a natural energy boost, too.”
Ro Huntriss, dietician for the Terri-Ann 123 Diet Plan (terriann123dietplan.co.uk) agrees, adding that flaxseed is a good source of thiamine, or vitamin B1. “Thiamine is thought to play a role in mood regulation, so including foods such as flaxseed in your diet could help to balance your mood. Other good sources include wholegrain bread, fortified breakfast cereals, eggs and peas.”
See the light
Using a light box could be key to beating the winter blues. “Bright light has been demonstrated to have a positive effect on our levels of alertness, mood, wellbeing and sleep patterns,” says Dr Victoria Revell, a chronobiologist at the University of Surrey. “We know that a strong light signal at dawn and dusk is important for keeping our body clock on track, particularly in the winter months, as it provides a clear transition between day and night.”
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