The third Monday of January has the uninspiring title of Blue Monday. Apparently, a university professor managed to precisely calculate the most depressing day of the year, using formulae based on weather conditions, financial debt, time since Christmas, the time since failing our new year’s resolutions and low motivational level!! Cheery stuff.
But don’t worry, this year the 20th January doesn’t have to be full of gloom. Though we are still in the depths of winter, it won’t be too long until the spring flowers brighten your spirits once more. Until then, try following these self-care tips to keep you as healthy as possible over the coming months:
- Follow the sunshine: winter can be a dark time, both literally and metaphorically. If you work shifts the only daylight you will see will be filtered through (often dirty) windows. So, on your days off be mindful of getting outside. Sometimes you may need to be spontaneous: household chores can wait, let those magical, crisp and sunny days lift your spirit.
- Bust those bugs: most likely you will be working in a hot stuffy environment which is ideal for passing on germs. Minimise this risk by being extra vigilant with infection control. Consider the flu jab if you haven’t had it already. Also increase your intake of winter ‘super foods, e.g. broccoli, sweet potatoes and porridge. And don’t forget your spices – ginger, turmeric, garlic and cinnamon are all known to have immune-boosting properties. If you don’t have time for extensive meal-planning, think about investing in a smoothie or juice maker to ensure you get your daily dosage of fresh vitamins and nutrients.
- Curb your cravings: As tempting as it is to feast on carb-rich comfort snacks, these will only add to any sluggishness that you are feeling. Try to maintain a balanced diet and pay attention to foods that are rich in much-needed Vitamin D, e.g. milk, eggs, mushrooms, cod liver oil, and fatty fish. Where possible plan your meals and stock your fridge up with healthy options. Use online shopping if this is easier.
- Don’t forget to rest: though you may get away with burning the candle at both ends once or twice, lack of restorative sleep means that your body will never get the chance to fully recover.
As well as affecting us physically, our emotions are often impacted by the weather. During the winter months it’s more common for your mood to be negatively affected. Yet, appealing as it is, hibernation is not an option for care workers, far from it. Instead, you must somehow find the physical and mental resolves to see you through another over-stretched winter on the frontline.
Ways to prevent your mood from slipping include:
- Stay connected: though it’s natural that you may not want to go out so much in the dark evenings make sure you don’t isolate yourself. Try to keep in touch with friends and family as much as you can.
- Have a giggle: laughter is ‘the best medicine’ so make sure you have time to relax with family and friends.
- Up your endorphins: try to schedule in some physical activity into your week. Remember even a few brisk walks can make a difference to your fitness levels and mood.
- Turn up the volume: research at the University of Missouri found that listening to cheery music can help you feel happier. Music tastes vary so invest time keeping your ‘happy’ playlist up to date.
- Stop being a martyr: most wards and care homes are under even more pressure during the winter months and you may feel compelled to help out, e.g. by staying late or working extra shifts. But it’s ok to look after yourself too, so learn to say ‘no’ when you need to. Having compassion for yourself as well as those you care for is a vital part of mental well-being.
- Talk about it: as hard as it may be, let someone know if your mood is slipping. You don’t need to go through this on your own.
More than the winter blues?
No-one’s mood stays totally stable throughout the year, some variation is normal. But if you find that your mood becomes noticeably lower as the days get shorter you may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Other symptoms can include losing interest in work, hobbies etc; feeling more irritable and not able to cope as well with busy shifts; feeling you don’t belong; feeling exhausted all the time, even on your days off; being unable to switch off at the end of the day and craving starchy foods.
Just like other types of depression SAD is treatable. The first steps are to recognise how you are feeling and tell someone about it. Sometimes just talking can help but if you need more formal support you can seek help with the occupational health department or a GP.