With Christmas party time a distant memory and summer still a long way off, it can be a tough old time of year. Here are my suggestions for seven ways to beat the winter blues – originally published in Brixton Blog.
If the dark and cold makes you want to hibernate, try to get out in the daylight for half an hour each morning – it will boost the hormones that that make you feel less sleepy and more happy. We’re blessed in south London with plenty of green spaces; not just gorgeous Brockwell, but local parks like Hillside Gardens, Ruskin, Max Roach, Mostyn Gardens, and Myatt’s Fields. Most open at 7.30am each morning and close 15 minutes before dusk.
It’s amazing how a bad day can be transformed by the exchange of smiles with a stranger or an unexpected chat on the bus. Have you ever introduced yourselves to your neighbours? The excellent Effra Blog is used by people in that part of Brixton to share local news and organise community events such as street parties. Could you start a local blog for your nearby streets? Don’t be isolated; at least invite a friend round for a chat
Singing with others always lifts my spirits, quite often bringing a happy kind of tear to my eye. Our local choirs include the South London Choir in Balham; London City Reggae Choir in Stockwell; Sing out Streatham, Streatham Choral Society and Opus XVI, all in Streatham and the Pop Up Choir, which performed in Brixton Village in December, pictured right.
A brilliant way to help yourself is help someone else – it’s good to feel useful. Norwood and Brixton Foodbank currently needs helpers for food collections at supermarkets and is always on the look out for food donations to give to households in need. Creative types might consider giving time to Brixton Inclusive or Streatham’s Music4Children. Lambeth Council has an online list of other local organisations looking for volunteers.
Exercise isn’t just good for staying physically fit – it’s good for mental health too. There are lots of activities to choose from at the obvious places like Brixton Rec, Brockwell Lido and Fitness First. In Brockwell Park there is a fitness trail, free 5km runs each Saturday, and a 10km run planned for March 3. Herne Hill Velodrome has track cycling training sessions for all abilities and ages, and Planet Ice has learn-to-skate courses for adults and children.
In trials, yoga’s combination of physical movement, breath and meditation has come out as more effective than exercise alone in alleviating stress and depression. I teach gentle, meditative yoga at my home in Streatham Hill and also at Yoga Point in Brixton, which is also a centre for Buddhist meditation, with two sessions open to all on a Monday evening.
Count your blessings
Negative thoughts can become a habit. You can turn this around by keeping a gratitude journal. Each day write ten things you’re thankful for – including five about yourself. Even if the rest of the day is rubbish, for at least part of it you’ll be feeling positive. Over time, you’ll establish positive thought patterns, perhaps feel less angry and take less for granted. You’ll be thanking other people more often – and as a result be more appreciated by others. Give it a try!
If none of these things work and you just can’t beat the blues, please don’t suffer in silence. Your GP can refer you to specialist help. Or contact a helpline such as the Samaritans, Saneline, Drinkline for alcohol problems, FRANK for drug or solvent problems, or – if it’s relevant – the National Domestic Violence Helpline.