Often individuals who present at our clinic during February state that the winter seems long, optimism is waning and they are frustrated with the futility of their jobs or relationships. Overall, there is a lack of optimism.
When the clocks go back in October we know that the evenings will get shorter and the days colder as our part of the earth lies further from the sun. We brace ourselves for this and some of us cope better. Taking each day as it comes and planning things to look forward too or preparing for Christmas breeds optimism and well-being. However, this can become more challenging.
Then comes January and I see individuals stiffening their spines to be resilient at the start of a new year, determined to not let bills, winter or the ‘restart’ get them down. This is a great mind set but that emotional resilience can start to falter as January moves to February. Important to note at this juncture that months and seasons are just times we have associated with certain events since childhood like half-term at school or certain types of food. This conditioning prepares a familiar thinking at specific times of year – this is where I encourage my patients to think differently – break the cycle with new activities. Seek warmth if you don’t like the cold, break the work week up with events you enjoy, make an eight week plan to bring you into the spring.
It has been researched that up to 6% of adults in the UK suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (known as seasonal depression or SAD). The symptoms most commonly start in the fall, when the days become shorter, and then continue throughout the winter. People who experience SAD might:
- Feel sad, grumpy, moody, or anxious
- Lose interest in their usual activities
- Eat more and crave carbohydrates, such as bread or pasta
- Gain weight
- Sleep more but still feel tired
- Have trouble concentrating
Then March arrives and we begin to reboot the optimism. The sun is stronger and temperatures begin to rise. Clocks will move forward an hour and the evenings will stretch. Summer seems a possibility and with it holidays, fresh foods and outdoor activities. This lends itself to hope and a better mood. That is why our patient lists get shorter in the summer – not as much focus on mental health because the individual may feel better. However, this is the perfect time where we should prepare for the next seasonal turn.
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When you are planning that holiday or running in the sun over the next few weeks, be mindful of how good it feels. This feeling is a peak, a measurement of your optimum psychology. It is at this point where you can see and plan things with positivity and realise what is important to you like career or friends or family. Follow that line of thought and create activities and goals around these relationships and aspirations. Those plans will bolster your sense of achievement during the months to come. Also be time urgent with your planning, knowing by what time you want to achieve these things, moving into the next winter. For instance, if you want to spend more time with friends, start a weekly summer walk and move that to a cosy indoor arena during the winter – the cinema for example – different activities but same achievement with respect to developing that relationship.
The March Hare is associated with the spring, bounding with energy and optimism in countryside which is now returning to life with green foliage. We, like him, start to get that mojo back at this time of year which helps us bounce into the summer.
So the hare isn’t that mad after all but does he have the wherewithal to use that mental and physical energy to plan ahead for his head?? Perhaps not, but you absolutely have that ability to do great things for your emotional well-being.
Dr Ian Gargan
Clinical Director at Imagine Health