For most of us the holidays are now over and it's back to the grindstone, but if you find yourself feeling low, struggling to get up in the morning and packing in the biscuits at coffee break, it may not be the return to work that's dragging you down so much as the ongoing winter skies.
The swallows and geese migrate, the hedgehogs and bats hibernate, it seems only natural that us human beings will be affected too, by the short days and cold winds, never mind the frequent anticlimax of the new year after Christmas with its mixture of joys and strains. It's not known exactly how, but it's thought that the lack of daylight during the winter in northern countries leads to alterations in the levels of mood- and energy-related chemicals in the brain. In particular, the hormone melatonin (which can invoke sleepiness or lethargy) is thought to increase and the neurotransmitter seretonin (which is linked to mood elevation) to decrease. This would explain the depression-like symptoms that some people experience during the winter, which is known, in more severe cases as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Of course, we can't really afford to sleep throughout the winter, nor to all go on holiday to South Africa, and, given that the process that causes these winter blues isn't fully understood, no one's yet managed to develop a sunshine-replacement pill. Fortunately, however, there are other ways to lift your spirits once the festivities have finished...
- When you can, get outside for some fresh air and to soak up what daylight there is! (You could also try upping the artificial light when you're indoors. Some people buy special bulbs or lamps which emulate natural daylight to combat the winter blues).
- Exercise: whatever kind you most enjoy — it boosts the production of happy hormones :)
- Eat well: keep the vitamins flowing in with plenty of fruit and veg.
- Try to get to bed early so you can fit in plenty of sleep.
- Be good to yourself! Make sure you get a good dose of both fun and relaxation in your life: treat yourself to a long, candlelit bath; meet up with friends for a hot chocolate and a chat; get yourself laughing with your favourite comedy; make yourself a wholesome, warming winter meal; brighten your home or desk with some flowers!