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Suffering Post-Christmas Blues?
Has the Christmas period left you feeling sluggish, low or demotivated?
In 2005, British psychologist Dr Cliff Arnall came up with the description “Blue Monday”, the third Monday of January each year statistically shown to represent a peak in the population feeling low, in a bid to encourage people to take a positive outlook this time of year as an opportunity for new beginnings and change. For 2019, this falls on 21st January.
The post-Christmas period can leave many of us feeling drained, low in energy, and overwhelmed by general society messages of New Year’s resolutions and the idea that we in some way need to constantly better ourselves by making seemingly impossible changes to our daily life. Others may view this “pressure” as an opportunity to make a change, gathering the motivation and momentum required to maintain long term behaviour change.
Aside from the reported factors involved, such as financial worry, low motivation and broken New Year’s resolutions, there could be a deeper level of physiological stress driving our emotions. What happens from a holistic perspective, and how can we turn this into achievable, simple solutions for our daily lives in order to feel fulfilled, happy and able to manage all the demands we are faced with in our day to day lives?
Christmas is generally a period of indulgence, often with an increase in sugary foods, alcohol, late nights and social occasions. This, combined with a general expectation to have a happy festive period can intensify all emotions and in some cases, raise complex family relations which can take its toll. New Year is often the time we feel the repercussions of these choices.
Most of us increase indulgent foods and drinks when socialising over the festive period, justifying to ourselves, “well, it’s Christmas”. Often, whilst this can provide us with a vital social boost in mood, it may have left us suffering the consequences of damage to the lining of the gut wall, lowered immunity, increased inflammation, higher levels of stress hormones and impaired production of brain chemicals called “neurotransmitters” which are involved in mood regulation and sleep patterns. This can become a vicious cycle which we need to break, in order to make a positive change for coping with the demands of daily life.
Short dark days coupled with long working weeks can limit our daylight exposure, increasing our susceptibility to vitamin D deficiency. Those with low levels of vitamin D have a 60% greater risk of experiencing substantial cognitive decline.1 Low levels of vitamin D have also been associated with depression, with the decrease in vitamin D production caused by reduced sunlight during the winter months being considered a major contributory factor in seasonal affective disorder (SAD).2
Neuroscientist Professor Ed Bullmore states “We need to take a more personalised, stratified approach, respecting the fact that not everybody is depressed for the same reason”. The role of the immune system and in particular, inflammatory proteins called cytokines, on brain function is a ground-breaking area of research involved with finding effective therapeutic treatments for depression and mental health disorders.3
Inflammation is a major contributory factor in diseases of the nervous system. This can be caused by various dietary and environmental factors, for example stressful situations, negative emotions,4 low antioxidant intake,5 gluten intolerance,6 or excess alcohol and sugar.7 Whilst some of these factors are beyond our control, we can take steps to promote health and wellbeing to counterbalance this by focusing on those we can do something about, helping us adapt better to those factors in our lives that we cannot control.
The importance of the gut microbiome in relation to mental health is staggering with findings that out of over 1000 people suffering digestive disorders, 84% also experienced anxiety and 27% depression.8 Gut dysbiosis is emerging as a key factor involved in nervous dysfunction, such as mental illnesses including anxiety.9
The changes need not feel overwhelming. Here are some ideas that may help point you in the right direction for a healthier body and mind:
Where do you start?
With many of these dietary and lifestyle factors well within our control, we can support ourselves and our families in daily lives by making small simple changes and sticking to them, minimising any potential impact of Blue Monday and increasing our overall sense of wellbeing.
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1 Llewellyn et al. Archives of internal medicine. 2010; 170 (13), 1135-41.
2 Parker GB et al. Vitamin D and depression. J Affect Disord. 2017 Jan 15; 208:56-61.
3 Morgan et al. Inflammation and dephosphorylation of the tight junction protein occludin in an experimental model of multiple sclerosis. Neuroscience. 2007; 147 (3), 664-673.
4 Kiecolt-Glaser JK. Stress, food, and inflammation: psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition at the cutting edge. Psychosom Med. 2010;72(4):365-9.
5 lkington LJ, Gleeson M, Pyne DB, et al. Inflammation and Immune Function: Can Antioxidants Help the Endurance Athlete? In: Lamprecht M, editor. Antioxidants in Sport Nutrition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2015. Chapter 11.
6 Shor et al. Gluten sensitivity in multiple sclerosis: experimental myth or clinical truth? Ann N Y Academy Sci. 2009; 1173: 343-9.
7 Wang HJ, Zakhari S, Jung MK. Alcohol, inflammation, and gut-liver-brain interactions in tissue damage and disease development. World J Gastroenterol. 2010;16(11):1304-13.
8 Addolorato G et al. State and trait anxiety and depression in patients affected by gastrointestinal diseases: psychometric evaluation of 1641 patients referred to an internal medicine outpatient setting. Int J Clin Pract. 2008 Jul; 62 (7): 1063-9.
9 Rogers G et al. From gut dysbiosis to altered brain function and mental illness: mechanisms and pathways. Molecular Psychiatry. 2016; 21: 738-741.
10 S. van de Pavert et al. Maternal retinoids control type 3 innate lymphoid cells and set the offspring immunity. Nature. 2014; 508 (7494): 123-7.
11 Sun J. Vitamin D and mucosal immune function. Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2010; 26 (6): 591-95.
12 De-Souza DA, Greene LJ. Intestinal permeability and systemic infections in critically ill patients: Effect of glutamine. Crit Care Med. 2005; 33 (5): 1125-35.
13 ASADI F ET AL. REVERSAL EFFECTS OF CROCIN ON AMYLOID ?-INDUCED MEMORY DEFICIT: MODIFICATION OF AUTOPHAGY OR APOPTOSIS MARKERS.PHARMACOL BIOCHEM BEHAV. 2015 DEC;139(PT A):47-58
14 Shahmansouri N, et al. A randomized, double-blind, clinical trial comparing the efficacy and safety of Crocus sativus L. with fluoxetine for improving mild to moderate depression in post percutaneous coronary intervention patients.J Affect Disord. 2014 Feb;155:216-22.
15 Adan A. Cognitive performance and dehydration. J Am Coll Nutr. 2012; Apr;31(2):71-8.