It is that time of year again: new years’ resolutions nagging at you; regretting that 30th mince pie on Christmas day; short, cold and dark days; all combined with not having Christmas to look forward to anymore! So it is no surprise that many people suffer from January blues every year. Here I have some suggestions on little ways you can make a big difference to your life this winter, which are easily achievable, unlike that promise to give up chocolate!
First I have to start by saying that many people suffer from an actual disorder regarding a lack of sunlight in winter, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It is estimated that about 2 million people in the UK suffer from SAD, which can result in depression-like symptoms and fatigue (amongst other symptoms). If this regularly describes you in the winter, your GP may be able to offer advice on how to make lifestyle and diet changes to combat the symptoms of SAD.
**Although I have a BSc in Biology and therefore understand how the human body works, I am not a doctor, and all advice I give here are based on my own experience and from reading. What works for me may not work for you!**
Despite the risks from over-exposure to the sun’s light, it is necessary for humans to produce vitamin D, which some have linked to helping to prevent depression, and is also associated with preventing SAD. Living in the UK, many of us will be at least partially deficient in vitamin D in the winter, due to a lack of sunlight. To tackle this: there are mixed opinions on the effectiveness of supplements, but they are available. Changing your diet (discussed below) can provide you with the vitamin D you are lacking. And finally one of the most interesting ways you can boost vitamin D levels is through a SAD lamp, which mimics the sun, and can be used as a desk light while you work.
This year (and many before it) I have made only one New Year’s resolution – not to make resolutions. While they do work for some lucky folks, I have found they just make me feel guilty and later become a laughing point for me being overly-ambitious! Also, it is pointless feeling guilty about how much you may or may not have eaten over Christmas, you can’t change the past! Instead, try to make small changes to your daily/weekly routine, whatever they may be, and stick to them.
On the same point, don’t just stick to the same routine! Make sure you still see your friends, go for a walk, plan a day trip. For all of you unlucky, unlucky people who have exams looming, take a day, or even an afternoon off and enjoy yourself. It is really easy to get down when you have exam stress on top of the January blues, but just a short break will give you renewed energy when restarting your work. The same goes for exercise, don’t go signing up for a 10 km run! But something as simple as walking more rather than getting the bus can be the small start needed to make a bigger change.
Start to eat healthier! It’s not about making drastic changes to your diet – chances are you won’t stick to it. So make little additions/subtractions to your diet and start positive routines. To boost your mood, increase dietary vitamin d intake by eating: fatty fish such as salmon or mackerel (which are also high in omega fats that can boost mood, brain power and are good for hair, skin and nails); tinned tuna (for those on a budget!); and eggs (specifically the yolks).
Try eating more fruit and vegetables! If you are trying to lose weight, have more vegetables than fruit, as the fructose that makes fruit sweet is very easily converted into fat after eating. Most importantly, eat a range of colours, and cook for the lowest amount of time possible. Coloured fruit/veg usually indicate antioxidants or chemicals that have a health benefit, so eating a wider range of colours will give the biggest benefit. It would take me a long time to list all of the different foods and their benefits, but one useful tip: the chemical that makes tomatoes red, lycopene, can give you a rosy or even tanned complexion, so eating plenty of them can make you look a bit brighter and healthier.
In terms of diets – I personally wouldn’t bother. They are usually too large a change, over too small a time frame. But if I had any recommendations, it would be to try and incorporate parts of a Mediterranean diet into your own – try a fresh Greek salad with feta and tomatoes, or some seafood and fish. The Mediterranean has long been associated with longevity and healthiness.
A lot of people increase how much alcohol they drink over Christmas. Why not give your liver a break?! With the Dryathlon, you could raise money for Cancer Research, decrease your liver and body fat, and lower your blood sugar and cholesterol. Also, make an effort to drink more water – you won’t believe what a difference drinking just a few glasses a day will make.
Finally, herbal tea. It works for some, not for others! Use as an alternative to coffee and tea, which can dehydrate you and increase anxiety. To relax, give camomile or redbush (roiibos) a try. There are even blends that help you get to sleep easier. Looking for a substitute for a cuppa? Try white tea, which is half-way between green and black tea. For a spirit boosting detox, how about green tea (which can come alone, or with other flavour such as lemon or lotus).
I hope these tips were helpful, and that you have a productive January!