From Blue Mondays to Happy Mondays

From Blue Mondays to Happy Mondays

The days are short, the resolutions forgotten. The festivities are over and the festivals are far off. It’s no surprise that the mood can sink as low as the winter sun at this time of year or that the 3rd Monday in January is labelled Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year.   The clean fresh start of a new year has all but given way back to the daily grind. It may seem tempting to follow our furry friends into hibernation but there are simple things you can do to prevent the winter blues of Seasonal Affective Disorder and promote your happiness during the darkest months of the year.

The vital piece of the winter well-being equation is to recognise that there are different types of happiness and that some may be more accessible than others at this time of year. ‘Hedonic well-being’ is the happiness you get from enjoyment and pleasure. It’s the fun factor served up with a side order of positive emotions like joy and bliss. This more familiar form of happiness is readily available during the sociable summer months of barbecues & beaches and the celebrations at the climax of the year. But there is another more internal happiness that comes from engaging with the things that are meaningful to you. ‘Eudaimonic’ well-being is an umbrella term that refers to a multiplicity of routes to this form of happiness, grounded in what gives your life meaning. Some of the ways it comes about is through having a purpose in life to work towards, playing to your strengths, serving the needs of others and taking steps to realise your potential.

The quieter months of winter are a good time to light the fire, switch off the TV and go inside to explore what it is that brings you this deeper sense of satisfaction in life. Maybe it’s a spiritual activity that connects you to something beyond the self, maybe it’s volunteering for a cause that is important to you or refining your purpose in life. This is a good time of year for the inner work – reading, contemplating and planning. There is a lot to be gained from taking your cue from the seasons. Winter is a time when nature appears to be bare but there is much going on beneath the surface. Plant the seeds of new ideas and let them germinate over the winter months ready to take into action in the spring.

Physical well-being goes hand in hand with psychological well-being and you can do a lot on a physical level to overcome the winter blues. It only takes 5 minutes of ‘green exercise’ in a natural environment to produce positive emotions. I go for a walk in my local park most days which gives me enough of a boost to get through the short winter days. The social interaction from chatting to dog-walkers alleviates the sense of isolation that comes with working from home.

Another reason to get outdoors is to boost your level of vitamin D, the best source of which is exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with mood disorders, low energy and fatigue. Deficiency in the sunshine vitamin is widespread and a number of studies have noted a connection between Vitamin D deficiency and depression. Vitamin D can increase the level of serotonin, the feel-good chemical in the brain, which affects your mood. Seize every opportunity there is to get a dose of the sunshine vitamin. Even 15 minutes of exposure is enough to make a difference.

It’s easy to get pessimistic in this grey time of year but borrowing a few tools from the science of optimism can also help to lift the mood. One of the ways in which optimists protect themselves from the downwards spiral into depression is to view difficult situations as temporary rather than permanent as a pessimist does. This too will pass. So notice how winter is giving way to spring with the days getting longer and lighter, buds appearing on the trees and the sound of birdsong. Optimists are also practised at noticing the positives and seeing the silver lining in every situation. So make a list of reasons to be cheerful this winter and savour the season of woodfire and warming soups.

Miriam Akhtar will be talking about her book Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression at Alternatives, St.James, Piccadilly on Blue Monday, January 21st.



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