It's a tough adjustment having to dive back into school life after the Christmas break. Long working hours and little sunlight can really bring you down. Throw the increased expenses, sudden dietary changes and family niggles of the festive season into the mix, and it is little wonder that many teachers are feeling a bit low come January.
Despite the fact that millions of us say we have suffered a winter-related low mood, the idea remains that the winter blues is just a myth. But there is sound scientific evidence to support the idea that the season can affect our moods. According to the Mental Health Foundation, as many as one in eight people in the UK experiences a mild low mood during winter, with symptoms including lethargy, craving sugary foods and sleep problems.
"Remember you are not the only person who is 'hitting the wall'," says James Williams, lecturer in science education at the University of Sussex. "All NQTs will be feeling hard pushed to eat, sleep, work and succeed."
According to Phillip Hodson, a fellow at the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, it is crucial that new teachers cut themselves some slack at this time of year. "Do not push yourself too hard - allow your body to adjust to the harsh winter climate," he says. "At this time of year, we cannot possibly function as well as we do in the summer months. Accepting this is a large part of overcoming seasonal depression."
If the winter blues is about lack of daylight, it is no surprise that treatment involves getting more light into your life, says Mr Hodson. "If you feel low in winter, get outside as often as you can, especially on bright days," he says.
"This might sound obvious, but it is all too easy to stay indoors, out of the cold and often wet weather. Sitting by a window during the day can be enough to lift your spirits."
You might feel tempted to hide under layers of clothes and eat away those lows, but you could stave off the hunger pangs by cooking warm and hearty meals, suggests Fiona Page, dietician and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association.
"During the colder weather it can be difficult to muster the motivation to cook a warm meal," she says. "But taking some simple steps like stocking up can ensure you can make something quickly to keep you protected against the elements."
There is another weapon against the seasonal slump: keeping active. Activity is believed to change the level of the mood-regulating chemical serotonin in the brain. It can also help by providing a pleasant change of scene, and helping you to meet new people.
Getting involved locally - outside of your school - is also thought to keep depression at bay, as feeling part of a community will give you a sense of belonging. Social interaction with friends and family can also help to lift your spirits.
"Make a pact to be there to help and support each other when things get tough," says Mr Williams. "Having partners, husbands, wives and family for support is good, but only other teachers will truly understand the pressures you are under. The pact should be to be able to ring or email when things get tough."
However, Mr Williams warns not to get into a downward spiral of depression over the workload. "Look for solutions together," he says. "A problem shared is a problem halved."
OUT OF THE BLUE
If you experience two or more of these symptoms you may be suffering from the winter blues:
-Increased feelings of lethargy.
-Difficulty waking up in the mornings.
- Difficulty concentrating and thinking creatively in comparison to the summer months.
- Difficulty performing tasks that normally seem to be easyenjoyable.
- Increased craving for carbohydrate-rich food like chocolate and fizzy drinks.
Things To Think About
- Remember that you are not the only person who is "hitting the wall".
- Try to get as much sunlight as possible.
- Keeping active is a useful weapon against the seasonal slump.
- Social interaction with friends and family, and getting involved locally can help to lift your spirits.
- Make a pact with fellow NQTs to help and support each other when things get tough.