Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

The Honest Truth: Why do we tend to feel blue in January?

© Shutterstock / yvonnestewarthendA perfect way to beat blues is simply to get outside for a little while.
A perfect way to beat blues is simply to get outside for a little while.

January is a time when we’re likely to feel down. So how do we know if what we suffer is the winter blues or something more serious? Dr Jane Graham is an integrative psychotherapist.

Here she tells Sally McDonald the Honest Truth about SAD (seasonal affective disorder).

Why is January such a sad month?

We are more likely to suffer with low mood during January than at any other time of the year. There are factors, such as increased financial pressures following Christmas, family conflict and poor weather with less sunlight.

This year we have additional pressures from Covid-19, like economic setbacks, job losses and the poor health – or even death – of loved ones. So, we may be at an increased risk of feeling low or out of sorts this year.

Are the “winter blues” really a medical condition?

The term “winter blues” is another name for SAD (seasonal affective disorder). SAD often starts in autumn and continues through winter, lifting in spring.

It is a diagnosable depression. Symptoms and severity affect everyone differently.

How do we know if we’re simply out of sorts or suffering from something more serious?

Feeling low, fed-up or out of sorts tends to lift more easily and more quickly, usually within days.

If you have been having these symptoms for more than two weeks or you notice them getting worse, it is time to talk to your GP.

What are the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder?

SAD symptoms are often similar to those of mild to moderate depression. They can include feeling irritable, stressed or anxious, withdrawing socially and being less active than usual.

Sufferers may have trouble getting off to sleep, or even sleep too much. Appetite may decrease or increase, sufferers may feel listless, they might also lack motivation and energy.

What else can we do to help ourselves?

Avoiding alcohol is important, as it’s a depressant. It can increase anxiety and lower mood, impact on sleep and reduce the effectiveness of antidepressant medication.

Keeping active is important. Walking outdoors is invigorating and helps the body release endorphins that reduce the perception of pain and boost mood. Exercise also increases oxytocin levels, helping to lift our mood, reduce anxiety and help people bond and empathise more.

Staying warm, having warm drinks and cooking healthy food containing lots of vegetables is important. The feeling of being safe and taken care of, even if it is self-care, increases oxytocin levels, and reduces anxiety and boosts the immune system.

Indulging in your hobbies is advised, as is staying in touch with people – subject to government Covid-19 restrictions. If you can’t see people on a socially-distanced basis then phone, or video call. It’s good for you and for them.

Do vitamin supplements help?

Research confirms we don’t get enough Vitamin D from the autumn months through to spring due to lack of the right kind of sunlight.

Vitamin D helps lift mood. With bad weather keeping us inside, we are likely to be vitamin D deficient.

So it is advisable to take a supplement during the winter months which can be bought in supermarkets or pharmacies. However, if you are prescribed regular medications you should check with your GP first.

What happens if all of the above fail and mood remains low or worsens?

Don’t wait. Arrange to see a GP and access professional help. The GP will ask about how you are and whether you can keep yourself safe, to help identify how severe your depression and anxiety is. The GP may offer antidepressant medication that helps to stabilise mood. It may take four to six weeks before improvements are felt. Evidence shows that the combination of medication along with talking therapies is most effective.

You will be able to access your local NHS IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) service for structured psychological support as part of your treatment.