Blue Monday: Everything you need to ease symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, according to experts (OLD)

Eva Waite-Taylor
·10 min read
<p>From meditation apps to lamps, some products and practices can help alleviate low mood</p> (iStock/The Independent)

From meditation apps to lamps, some products and practices can help alleviate low mood

(iStock/The Independent)

The third Monday of January is commonly dubbed Blue Monday – otherwise known as the most depressing day of the year. Coined by psychologist Cliff Arnall in 2004, the date was calculated by factoring the combination of bleak weather, post-Christmas blues, financial struggles and low motivation. This year it falls on 18 January.

But for many, feeling low during the winter months isn’t limited to just one day. Instead, it’s a symptom of seasonal affective disorder (Sad) – sometimes known as "winter blues" or "winter depression" – which is experienced throughout the season.

Sad is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern. While it is not fully understood what causes the condition, it's thought that the reduced hours of sunlight during autumn and winter have a negative impact on your mood.

The shorter, darker days affect parts of the brain that regulate our bodily functions, which then causes a range of symptoms, including a sudden drop in mood, feeling less active, having less of an interest in life and a desire to sleep more. By the time April arrives, symptoms often start to disappear as the days get longer and brighter.

While anyone can be affected by Sad, research has found that women are four times more likely to suffer from it than men.

It's important for us all to look after our mental health, particularly during unsettling times. Dr Luke Powles, associate clinical director at Bupa Health Clinics, says that "with more of us working from home, it's increasingly common for people to feel cooped up".

"While the commute might’ve been frustrating, it was still a time to get outside. It’s the same with lunch breaks: lots of people are now eating at home, rather than popping outside as they would’ve done when in the office," he adds.

Stephen Buckley, head of information at mental health charity Mind, says: "If you’re working from home and experiencing Sad, it’s important to make sure you take time to get outside as much as possible."

He suggests "going for walks when you can, spending time in parks or gardens, or simply sitting near a window".

It's crucial then that on Blue Monday, or during the winter months more generally, we consider the best ways to overcome these symptoms.

Thankfully, there are a number of things that we can do when working from home to help. From changing your alarm clock to taking up meditation, our expert-approved round-up includes everything you need to add a little bit of brightness to your day.

You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Ditch coffee

While coffee might be what you reach for on a dark morning to give you energy, caffeine in energy drinks and coffee has been found to suppress levels of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that is thought to regulate mood, sleep, sleep, and memory.

Given the reduced exposure to light during winter months, it's likely that levels of serotonin will already be low, so swap your morning cup of java for tea, since it'll have less caffeine, but can still help with give you a boost. Black, green and oolong tea all contain an amino acid called theanine, which works to improve focus and attention.

In our review of the best plastic-free teas, this Brew Tea Co proper tea earl grey (Brew Tea Co, £7.99) came out on top, with our tester praising it for being "great for a weekend brew".

Brew Tea Co
Brew Tea Co

For more of a regular cuppa, Clipper's everyday tea (Clipper, £3.49) wins for its affordable price and great taste.

Clipper
Clipper

Invest in a Sad lamp

While the evidence is not 100 per cent conclusive, Dr Luke Powles suggests investing in a Sad lamp as a way to manage symptoms.

These plug-in lights work to mimic the sun and are thought to boost levels of serotonin and melanin, delivering short-term positive effects.

Plus, they are a "helpful way to banish the winter blues until the days start getting longer again", says Powles. It is recommended that you use these for a duration of 20 to 40 minutes a day.

While these lamps are expensive, if you think about the savings you'll be making by not grabbing a coffee on your way into the office, it'll definitely be worth it.

To qualify as a Sad lamp, brightness needs to measure at least 2,500 lux – the brighter the light, the greater the effectiveness.

Using an alarm clock that uses light is a great way to start the day, helping you to wake up feeling refreshed.

Dr Jaya Gowrisunkur from the Priory wellbeing centre Harley Street suggested a Lumie alarm clock – and the Lumie bodyclock shine 300 (Lumie, £129) shone big in our review of the best Sad lamps thanks to its therapeutic benefits.

Lumie
Lumie

Gowrisunkur noted the importance of a regular wake-up time for managing symptoms, meaning this alarm clock could help you get into a good, healthy routine. It will also prevent lie-ins and snoozing.

The real beauty of the bodyclock, though, is that the sunset feature can also be used at the end of the day to help you wind down, and it can play sounds to help you fall asleep. This is considered a fantastic complement, rather than an alternative, to a lightbox when treating Sad.

Dr Powles suggests that brightening the environment you work from home in can work to alleviate symptoms. Consider this Beurer TL 30 ultra portable daylight Sad light (John Lewis & Partners, £59.99).

Beurer
Beurer

Simple and easy to set up, it can clip on to different surfaces and the angle can be altered however you wish. Beurer recommends using this for two hours, making it a great desk accessory while working from home, and it can also be easily transported into the office should you wish.

If you're looking for something that has a shorter usage time, turn to the Lumie Brazil Sad light (Amazon, £149).

Lumie
Lumie

While it is more expensive, the treatment time is only 30 minutes thanks to the light being brighter; making it a quick and effective way to manage symptoms.

Get physical

"Research shows that physical activity can be as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression," says Stephen Buckley from Mind. Exercise isn’t always an option or the right solution for everyone, but it could be a good place to start.

Dr Jaya Gowrisunkur from the Priory similarly suggests getting out into natural surroundings, like the local park. This may be in the form of a walk, run or simply spending time in the garden, if you have one.

With the positive effects of exercise aplenty, it might be worth considering a light evening jog after work. If you're new to running, it can feel daunting putting on a fresh pair of trainers for the first time, but our guide to how to start provides expert advice on everything you need to ace it.

Whether you're just starting out or a keen marathon runner, you need kit that'll keep you warm during the winter months and help you go the extra mile.

The Zome3 women's RX3 medical grade compression tights (Zone3, £75) were highly commended in our review of the best women's running leggings.

The "medical-grade compression" aids recovery and makes for a flattering fit, while the material is flexible and has sweat-wicking qualities. There's also a handy zip pocket that keeps your keys safe. Owing to the tightness, our tester did advise sizing up.

The Zone3 RX3 medical grade compression tights (Wiggle, from £52.49) were also a big hit in our round-up of best men's winter running gear.

The heavy compression was again praised for aiding recovery, and the thermal design will keep your warm during a run, warm down, and even recovery when back home.

Factoring a run into your day might not be for you. But, Dr Luke Powles advises you take "regular breaks, and try to go outside during these times, whether for a quick stroll around the block or a longer walk". A lunchtime stroll can have the same benefits as two and a half hours of light treatment, even on a cloudy day.

Doing this in the drizzle might not seem appealing, but it's proven to help, so it's prime time to invest in a new waterproof jacket that'll keep you warm. In our review of the best waterproof jackets for women, the Haglofs grym evo jacket (Haglofs, £248) took the top spot.

Made from 100 per cent recycled materials, our tester said that "this is hands down the most comfortable shell jacket we tested", before praising its fit and ability to fight the worst weather. There is a men's version (Haglofs, £248), too – and with reviews like that, you can't go wrong.

Improve sleep quality

When asked how to keep symptoms at bay, Dr Jaya Gowrisunkur advised to "invest in the things that will improve sleep quality" so that you wake up with more energy. This is particularly important since disturbances of sleep have been found to be a key characteristic of Sad.

When it comes to a new set of pillows – something that Gowrisunkur notes as being important – for exceptional support and cooling action, the Simba hybrid pillow (Simba, £99) took the crown in our round-up.

Simba
Simba

Providing comfort, longevity and value for money, and being suitable for all sleepers, it certainly ticks the boxes.

While buying a new mattress may seem extravagant, ensuring you get plenty of sleep will make you feel better rested and ready for the day ahead.

For an instantly comfortable night go for the Emma original mattress (Emma, £329 for a double), which won the IndyBest best buy in our guide to the best mattress.

Emma
Emma

When reviewing it our tester said: "There isn’t a body shape or type of sleeper that it wouldn’t suit, making it a great all-rounder." If that's not enough to persuade you to invest, there's no minimum timeframe to request a return, and if you decide it isn't for you, you don't have to repackage it. We are sold.

Meditate

While there are a number of different Sad management techniques – including cognitive behavioural therapy and antidepressants – Dr Gowrisunkur suggests taking up meditation as a first defence.

Research suggests that meditation increases serotonin levels in the brain, which is also the mechanism of action within some of the drugs used to treat Sad.

If you've never done it before, practising meditation can be difficult to get into. But, thankfully in recent years, mindfulness has exploded in popularity. In our guide to the best mindfulness apps, the Calm Android and iOS app (Calm, £28.99/year) was heralded as the top choice.

Calm
Calm

Just as the name suggests, Calm is a portal to peace of mind. With so much variety – from calming bedtime stories to easy-to-follow meditations, and even the option to reflect on your mood each day – Calm offers a way for you to unwind and refocus your attention.

Perhaps the best-known meditation app, Headspace, which can be downloaded via Android or iOS (Headpace, £9.99/month), offers a free 10-part basic course that is perfect for beginners.

Headspace
Headspace

The sessions come in three, five or 10-minute chunks and are easy to follow. Andy Puddicombe, the narrator and co-founder, will guide you through breath work and body scanning in a calm and easy-to-understand way. You can then use these exercises within every aspect of your life.

For more information on seasonal affective disorder and the symptoms and treatments available, visit the NHS website

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