Work-life balance - Don't let the lights go out

Don't hibernate, there's plenty to love about winter. Steven Hastings has tips for survival

Steven Hastings

Summertime petered out weeks ago, somewhere between the first woolly jumper and the last damp barbecue. And now Summer Time goes too, as we change the clocks to GMT on Sunday.

While turning back the clocks is a mere sleight of the hour hand, the shortening days are a cold, dark reality. Over the next two months the light flies away, so that by mid-December, parts of the UK will be waking up to less than seven hours of daylight. It's not surprising if the winter blues begin to bite.

"Throughout nature, the length of the day controls body rhythms and hormone production," says Dr Jonathan Johnston, a seasonal biologist at the University of Surrey. "The advantage humans have is that we can artificially control our environment to minimise differences between summer and winter."

In other words, switch on the heating and keep the lights bright. You can start by taking a good look at your classroom. A well-lit environment lifts everyone's mood, so fix those flickering strip lights or that blind stuck halfway down. A lick of paint will brighten things up, and you could move your desk nearer to the window.

In the evenings, it's tempting to snuggle down at home. The TV schedulers know this and set out to snare us. Don't give in. Exercise keeps the endorphins flowing and makes us feel good. So join a gym or find a suitable indoor sport, such as squash or swimming. On a less healthy note, even going down the pub may be better than becoming a couch potato. Anything that gets you out of the house and shakes off the urge to hibernate.

If you do stay at home, take the opportunity to get on top of marking and planning. That way, you'll be able to make the most of weekends, when freetime and daytime coincide. Don't assume the weather's going to be lousy. Last December the south of England had 67 hours' sunshine, roughly the same as Northern Ireland got in August. So if you live in Kent, go ahead, make plans.

As it turns colder, most of us crave comfort food. But while there's nothing wrong with the odd treat, dieticians say it's better to avoid the stodge and eat even more fruit and veg than we do in the summer. Similarly, curling up for an early night, while appealing, isn't necessarily a good idea.

"Excessive sleep can cause us to feel less cheerful," says Professor Jim Horne of the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University. "If you're down, try limiting yourself to just six hours' sleep. Studies show it can give you a lift."

It seems the way to beat the blues is to fight off our primeval instincts and carry on much as we would do in the summer.

But that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the seasonal change. So make a list of the things you love about winter. Log fires, mugs of hot chocolate, those crisp, frosty days where the air rasps your lungs. Before you know it, we'll be back on the sunny side of the globe, with the long days stretching out ahead.


- Check lighting levels at home and in your classroom.

- Book tickets - if it's in your diary, you have to leave the house.

- Take a stroll at lunchtime, when the light is at its best.

- Try to spend time outdoors at weekends.

- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects 3 per cent of the population. Symptoms include lethargy, sleep disorders and depression. If the winter makes you seriously unhappy, see your GP.

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Steven Hastings

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