DUMP THE MID-YEAR SLUMP

INTRO: De-energised? “Blah” sum up your mood? No wonder. Mid-year motivation failure plus winter weariness equals a double whammy, says Laura Twiggs. But don’t take it lying down, eating junk food and fueling your funk. Here’s how to survive the seasonal slump

I know seasonal ennui all too well. I’ve had many year’s experience and it’s always the same. It starts surreptitiously. I set my alarm clock for just a little later, I miss a yoga class or two and pop a harmless “once off” jar of hot chocolate into my shopping basket. The next thing I know it’s mid-July, I’m in a mismatched baggy tracksuit eating cheesy toast and the only thing I’ll venture out for is the next installment of some mindless marathon TV show on DVD. Suddenly it dawns on me that I can’t remember when last I saw my friends. This is when Talking Heads starts playing through my mind: ‘How did I get here?’ and ‘My God, What have I done?’

The next five minutes see me making a pact with myself to return to yoga, planning a dinner party, creating a grocery list Jamie Oliver would be proud of and trying to recall what an “outfit” is. Now I’m fired up. Nothing can stop me. I’ll even enroll for winter school, I think. I’ll do all of these things, for sure, just after another cup of that delicious hot chocolate…

I know it so well that I’d decided to give up even the pretense of a fight against my seasonal urge to vegetate. But this year will be different. I’m not only aware of it, but I’m forearmed, too. Because remaining motivated, energised and upbeat during the year’s doldrums is surprisingly simple, say these three experts.

BOOST YOUR STATE OF MIND

‘To keep motivation levels going through the mid-year slump I’d suggest a simple process,’ says Joanna Kleovoulou, Clinical Psychologist, Director of PsychMatters Family Therapy Centre in Bedfordview. ‘Define the situation. Begin with the end in mind. Find the root of your motivation and pull from that. Work to understand the obstacle also that obstacles build strength and promote change. Create a plan of action.’

For example: the situation could be that it’s cold mid-winter and also mid-year nowheresville. There’s nothing exciting to look forward to. 2011 isn’t turning out to be the brilliant one you imagined last New Year. The end in mind might be to remain upbeat, energised and actually enjoy what winter has to offer. Your motivational root might be anything from preventing mirror-shock come bikini-buying in November, to staying focused and getting closer to the career promotion you want, or even developing as a vital, contributing individual for your own personal growth. The obstacles may be many things, including the lure of the couch, inclement weather and listless friends. A plan of action would include things like rising at the same time every morning, taking a brisk walk every day, contacting at least one friend or family member a day, arranging movie or theatre outings weekly and honouring your book-club commitment come rain or shine.

If this seems like too much effort, Joanna says that simple ways of beating winter blues include adding more laugher to your life, listening to music that lifts your spirits, burning energy-boosting peppermint incense and dancing more. ‘Dancing will get your blood circulating and in just five minutes you’ll have danced off your lethargy,’ she explains. Another very easily-incorporated tactic she advocates is as basic as breathing. ‘Be mindful of your breathing. Feed your body with oxygen that dissipates fatigue. Spend a few minutes each day focusing on your breathing, taking deep breaths that fill your chest and abdomen, or better still, join a yoga class,’ she suggests.

Most important, according to Joanna, is not to isolate yourself. ‘A study in Holland revealed that people who liked to isolate themselves reported feeling more tired and stressed,’ she explains. ‘Make some noise!’

What may not be so easy when the weather is cold and miserable and bed seems the only logical place to be, but what Joanna says is crucial at this time of year, is to maintain a good sleep routine. ‘This replenishes your mind and body,’ she adds. Unfortunately “a good sleep routine” doesn’t mean getting more sleep than usual, and finding yourself spending more time snoozing might signal a serious problem that demands professional intervention.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)

See your doctor or clinical psychologist if you have persistent or excessive fatigue. Symptoms to look out for and to seek professional help:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of memory or concentration
  • Sore throat
  • Painful and mildly enlarged lymph nodes in your neck or armpits
  • Unexplained muscle pain
  • Pain that moves from one joint to another without swelling or redness
  • Headache of a new type, pattern or severity
  • Unreplenished sleep
  • Extreme exhaustion lasting more than 24 hours after physical or mental exercise
  • Psychological problems, such as depression, irritability, anxiety disorders and panic attacks
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Supplied by Joanna Kleovoulou, Clinical Psychologist,Director of  PsychMatters Family Therapy Centre in Bedfordview.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

SAD is a recurrent Depressive Disorder occurring at particular times of the year with some atypical symptoms which include hypersomnia, hyperphagia, carbohydrate cravings and increased weight.

Symptoms to look out for and to seek professional psychiatric  or psychological treatment:

  • Sleep more/difficulty staying awake.
  • Fatigue often incapacitating/slump in energy in the afternoon
  • Craving for carbohydrates and sweet foods
  • Difficulty concentrating, often with additional memory impairment
  • Low mood during the winter, often severe, remitting in the summer
  • A short period of hyperactivity (hypomania) in Spring
  • Sense of misery, loss of self-esteem; hopelessness and despair; apathy and flat mood
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Lowered libido
  • Irritability, problems relating to people; withdrawal and isolation

SOURCE: LAURA TWIGGS, Joanna Kleovoulou (Clinical Psychologist)

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