How to overcome the January blues at work

Dr Leigh Neal has offered some insights into beating the January Blues.

Blue Monday, which this year falls on 15 January 2018, is said to be the most depressing day of the year for us Brits, with many of us struggling with feelings of depression, lethargy and irritability as we had back to work, try to get back in shape and await the end of the long, cold nights.

It’s no wonder that many of us struggle emotionally in January. Not only is it the peak season for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), it’s also become a month of enforced austerity and gruelling fitness regimes as we battle to compensate for the excess of December.

As the nights draw in and the temperatures drop, as many as one in five of us will experience symptoms of depression, including grumpiness, lack of energy, feeling low, sluggishness and insomnia. With going back to work one of the other main factors, it’s important that you look out for your employees and ensure that they are kept upbeat at work. 

Luckily there is some good news.

Without putting too much pressure on them, there are a few simple lifestyle changes that can be implemented without too much disruption to the working day, and they’ll massively help to alleviate symptoms and improve overall mood and energy levels. 

Encourage your employees to spend their lunch break outside

It might be cold, but there’s no reason for them to bury themselves inside, at a desk, all day everyday. Sunlight and fresh air can have amazing benefits for health and wellbeing, boosting levels of vitamin D and serotonin and helping to de-stress and unwind.

When you tap into your creativity, studies show that you reduce your stress levels and experience fewer symptoms of depression.

Spending time in nature has been proven to reduce our stress levels, so even if you’re a city based company, make sure to encourage employees to find some green space near the office. Wrap up warm, plan for the winter weather and go for a walk, bike ride or jog. There’s a high chance that they’ll come back feeling much better afterwards.

Try new things

January can often be a time when we feel stuck in a rut. Encourage your staff to stimulate their creativity and imagination by trying something completely new. You could even put classes on for your team to try – why not go trampolining (great exercise and good fun), learn a new instrument or take a life drawing class?

When you tap into your creativity, studies show that you reduce your stress levels and experience fewer symptoms of depression. Being creative allows us to express and process our emotions, tap into our childhood sense of exploration and wonder and focus on the moment – the perfect antidote to January’s dull winter evenings.

Sort out your serotonin

You may have heard about serotonin before. It’s an important chemical neurotransmitter that is thought to have a strong effect on our overall mood, wellbeing and sleep patterns. As well as being found in the brain, serotonin can also be found in the gut.

Research suggests that consumption of alcohol and coffee or a poor diet could disrupt the production of serotonin. Not only that, but lack of sunlight could also contribute to disruption in serotonin production, so it’s no wonder that December could have left you feeling a little out of balance.

Luckily, it’s possible to start putting your serotonin levels back on track. Cutting back on drinking and over-eating will definitely help, plus, adding more fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes and oily fish could contribute to regulating your digestive system.

For January, why not arrange a healthy breakfast counter for your staff to ensure that they are getting a good amount of their five a day at work?

A regular exercise pattern will also help, but make sure that they don’t torture themselves. Opt for physical activity that is fun, social and stimulating – like a long walk in a new neighbourhood or a game of tennis with friends. You could even put on a company wide sports match to get everyone involved.

Think Scandinavia

Encourage your employees to have a quiet night in, but stress that a quiet night in doesn’t have to be bland and boring. The Danish word ‘hygge’ refers to moments in life that are particularly cosy, charming and cherished.

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Encourage your employees to take their self-care home with them and take a little time to freshen up the house, put out some soft rugs and cushions and create a perfect nest for themselves. Alternatively, why not turn one of your spare meeting rooms into a Scandinavian haven and allow employees to invite friends over for a really good chat or put on a special viewing of a popular movie.

Encourage them to try small, new things – find a new healthy baking recipe and cook some healthy treats for the office for the week ahead?

Try not to let them get stuck in aimlessly channel hopping and wasting evenings wishing the hours away.

Keep an eye on employees’ mood

Most cases of SAD will be relatively mild, but if you think one of your employees is one of the 6% of people who experience severe symptoms of SAD, which are classified as those that seriously impact your daily life, there are ways you can help.

Offer drop-in sessions in the building with a mental health professional or a doctor. Talking therapies can be extremely beneficial in the treatment of SAD, and some Doctors will also recommend anti-depressant medications in more severe cases.

Alternatively, help educate your employees on the warning signs and things to look out for. A quick online search will also reveal several affordable options for home light boxes, which provide treatment by mimicking daylight in order to ease symptoms.

Alternatively, if they would would prefer to stay free of medication, you may want to suggest looking into Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). TMS is a new mental health treatment, approved by NICE for the treatment of depression which doesn’t require any invasive surgery or anaesthetic. It uses pulses of magnetic energy to stimulate areas of the brain known be underactive in patients with depression.

If you think someone at work is experiencing severe symptoms of depression, persistent low mood, loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities, lethargy, irritability, feelings of despair, guilt or worthlessness, then make sure you reach out and talk to them and encourage them to visit a health care provider about their options.

No one should suffer in silence. 


About the author

Dr Leigh Neal is a psychiatrist with over 20 years’ experience and founder of Smart TMS.


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