At this time of year, when our mornings and evenings are swallowed by icy darkness, even the perkiest among us are prone to a case of the winter blues.
Research commissioned by the Weather Channel and YouGov in 2014 found that 29 per cent of adults experience symptoms of seasonal depression. This includes low mood, lethargy, loss of interest in hobbies, sleep-related problems, carbohydrate cravings and general feelings of doom and gloom. Fun, eh?
If any of this sounds familiar, then who could blame you for bringing in the New Year with a sense of dread and foreboding? Even more so if you’re a teacher and therefore required to have the energy of a children’s TV presenter, 365 days a year.
Luckily for you, help is at hand. Follow the tips below to keep your mood sunny on even the darkest of days:
Embrace the Danish notion of ‘hygge’
Pronounced “hoo-gah”, the concept of hygge offers an explanation as to why the Danes are purportedly such happy people…despite having similar, if not worse, weather than us Brits.
Translated literally as "cosiness", hygge manifests itself in a number of heartwarming experiences, whether that’s a friendly get-together over a few glasses of mulled wine and a board game; a long winter walk in your favourite chunky-knit scarf; or a night on the couch under a sea of pillows and blankets, surrounded by candles.
Hygge speaks to an overall attitude the Danish have – they look forward to the change of seasons with gratitude and appreciation. Essentially, hygge isn’t that dissimilar to what many of us know as festive spirit…only it lasts about three months longer.
A key part of hygge is enjoyment and acceptance of the present moment, which is where mindfulness comes into play. In one respect, paying attention allows you to fully appreciate those memory-making moments and creature comforts in all their glory – the way a cup of coffee feels in your hand, the aroma, the heat, the taste, the aftertaste…
At the same time, mindfulness can offer a useful distraction from the negative thoughts. Let’s say you’re de-icing the car after a particularly frosty night, and running late. Where does your brain go, as you scrape away at the windows? Are you listening to the sound of the ground underfoot? Noticing the sweeping movements of your arm and hand? Feeling the cold on your skin, or your breath? Or are you jumping frantically between anxious, miserable and frustrated thoughts about a situation that you cannot control?
No one is expecting you to greet this situation with arms wide open, but using mindfulness can help you to at least accept it.
Adapt your routine
One thing that I’ve learned over the past few years is that willpower will only get you so far, especially when you’re working against your body’s own natural rhythms and inclinations.
Yes, it’s frustrating that salads, water and morning jogs often completely lose their appeal in winter. So why force it, knowing that you’ll very likely fail spectacularly, as you have every year before this one?
Our needs and wants change, just as the seasons do. So work smarter, not harder, and adapt. Swap the salads for soups, the cold water for herbal teas and the morning jog for living-room yoga. You can still have high expectations of yourself without setting yourself up for a fall.
Jo Steer is a teacher and experienced leader of SEND interventions and wellbeing strategies