We can all feel lower in mood during the winter. Well that is a relative statement. At the end of October the clocks in the UK and most of Europe go back one hour. This has the effect of making it feel like the world just got a whole lot darker. However the effect of the diminishing sunlight at this time of year means that everyone’s serotonin level, the wellbeing endorphin in the brain, drops and we all feel less up and at it and have less get up and go. Though, this is also a relative statement.
How down any individual feels in the darker winter months will be dictated by their level of vitamin D when the winter begins. Vitamin D is the precursor of serotonin. It created by sunlight in the skin and the lack of light in the winter predisposes us to higher levels of depression. Those with higher levels of VIt D in October will be affected less than those with low levels. When people get sad in the winter we call it SAD – seasonally affected disorder.
The saddest day of the year is said to be the Monday in January in the third week. This years Blue Monday, as it is known came from research carried out by the holiday company Sky Travel. This may have been an advertising ploy to get people to take a sunny break during the winter months but either way the idea that people are unhappier in the winter is real.
The reasons for our increased unhappiness begin with our level of vitamin D. We should all be checked and may need to take a supplement. So, if we look at all the casual factors of our unhappiness I would say, from those that I deal with, that it goes something like this.
1: Low vitamin D
2: Difficult Christmas. This includes financial stress, social stress, bereavement, as it can be the first Christmas without someone important, relationship stress. January sees an increase in divorce applications.
3: Reactive depression. Despite our experience we believe that Christmas ‘should be’ a time of great joy and when it isn’t we can feel that we are a failure.
4: New Year. When we look forward to the year ahead many people say to me ‘oh no not again’. When we are stuck in negative cycles it can feel like the popping of corks and cries of ‘Happy New Year’ are simply taking the mick and rubbing our noses in it.
5: Then there are the New Years resolutions that we, kind of, know we will not keep. This is a form of self sabotage.
6: The post holiday slump and the fact that we have to go back to work with a general lack of motivation is depressing.
7: The weather. When the sun is shining we all feel much better. If it has been dull, overcast or wet and windy day after day we can all begin to feel down and unhappy anyway.
When people use the phrase Blue Monday they are not suggesting that this is a twenty four hour depression that you will be over on the Tuesday, they are describing the time of year and the general feeling that we all get. Blue Monday, like any other annual day is a way of focusing on it, reminding ourselves that it is normal to feel down at this time of year and giving us the opportunity to do something about it. That may include therapy, visiting the GP for the VIt D test or to get some antidepressants, getting some exercise or simply looking after ourselves such as dry January, we know that alcohol is a depressant.
Actually I am not so sure about January, I think that often February brings out the worst depression in people. In the dim distant past when I worked as a performing musician and singer in clubs and bars I found that the flattest most depressing months were first November, when the clocks had gone back and people were saving for Christmas. Then second, especially if it had been a dull overcast winter, February brought out the most miserable, moaning and depressive behaviour in people.
There was a Japanese study in 2009 that indicated that the most likely day for suicide in men of all ages is on a Monday. With the many suicides that I have dealt with over the years, I could not say Monday was any different to any other day. I do note however that, rather than the early hours of the morning, which I thought would have been the obvious time, most people have taken their lives in the afternoon between 3 and 6. Many people have a low ebb at this time of day and struggle to keep going. In the Mediterranean this problem was helped by having a siesta, and having a good afternoon nap.
If we can accept that everyone gets flatter in the darker months than in the lighter months, then the next step is being responsible for it and doing something about it. Make sure you are fit and healthy. Do things that make you feel good. Maybe Sky Holidays are right and it should be this time of year that you head off for your annual holiday in the sun so that you can get a brain boost and more serotonin when you need it.
Look after yourself and if you do feel down please talk and seek support from your GP. Below are the details of other services and organisations who can offer help & support.
Samaritans 116 123 – samaritans.org
Calm (for men) 0800 58 58 58 – thecalmzone.net
Rethink Mental illness (for practical advice on therapy, medications, money, your rights under the mental health act) 0300 50 00 927 rethink.org
Befrienders – for support outside of the UK – befrienders.org
Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) 0800 068 41 41 – papyrus-uk.org
Mind 0300 12 33 393 – mind.org.uk
Sane 0300 304 7000 – sane.org.uk
Shout uk – crisis support in the UK – text SHOUT to 85258 – giveusashout.org