January and February is the time of year when we can feel at our lowest ebb. The distractions of Christmas and the New Year are over, (but credit cards still feel the pain), the weather is bleak and there can seem little to look forward to.
For some, Seasonal Affective Disorder strikes, a winter depression that can hit people so badly they struggle to get out of bed. The spectrum of light produced by the sun affects us in ways scientist are still discovering. One way is the transport round the brain of serotonin, our ‘feel good’ hormone. The production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, is also linked to light, and it is thought that in Sad sufferers melatonin is released at the wrong time of day.
Many of us suffer from a mild form of Sad. So what can we do to counter it?
It’s often the smallest steps that can make a difference. Rather than the New Year’s resolution to join a gym which can set us up for failure, just a 20 minute walk outside in the middle of the day when the sunlight is strongest (even if hidden by clouds!) can make a big difference.
A client who had wanted to join a yoga class one January but never found the time finally decided to do a ‘pose of the day’ – just one, just for 5 minutes – at home most days.
If a half hour sitting meditation seems daunting, how about 5 minutes before sleep of focussing on the breath and body, bringing the mind back every time it wanders? Another useful tool can be that at the end of the day, rather than dwelling on the negatives, try to bring to mind 3 positive things that you achieved over the course of the day. With each one stay with the feeling in the body, try to root it in a physical experience.
Lastly, there can be wisdom in following the seasons and surrendering to this time of year. It is a time for reflection, for introversion, for gentle self-nurturing and sleeping longer. And then we can take pleasure in the small things- the first white snowdrops – and mid-winter can seem not so dark after all.
Susannah Brindle, MA
UKCP registered psychotherapist, HCPC state registered dramatherapist