04/01/2012 10:47 GMT | Updated 05/03/2012 05:12 GMT

How to Beat the January Blues

Let's be honest, January is a gloomy old month. Christmas and new year frivolity are in the distant past, but everyone's broke because we're still paying for them. The days are short and grey, it's cold and gloomy and spring seems an age away. And if you're prone to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), you will be struggling with the lack of light, which makes the winter a real challenge every year.

If you are feeling down, it's useful to think of depression as a 'brain state', in which a host of psychological and physiological changes occur. For example, when you are down your sleeping and eating habits are affected (some people sleep more, others wake early with negative thoughts going round and round; some comfort eat when they're down, while others go off food completely).

You will also find your ways of thinking and viewing the world are affected. You will probably be thinking quite negatively and struggling to see any positives in life; you may also be plagued by guilty or regretful thoughts and feelings, looking back over past events and wishing you had said or done things differently. You may also feel exhausted, angry or irritable and find yourself snapping at people, even for minor indiscretions.

It's also really common to withdraw from life. You may stop seeing friends or doing any of the usual day-to-day activities that make life enjoyable. Worse still, you might struggle to find any pleasure in your favourite things - life just seems a bit flat, drab and pointless. And it's a vicious circle, because the less you socialise, exercise or engage in daily activities, the more withdrawn and glum you become.

If you're feeling low, it's really important to break this cycle and remind yourself that life is full of beauty and opportunities for enjoyment, if you look out for them. Try this simple exercise, which is a technique used in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). It's called a Diary of Pleasant Events and simply involves keeping a diary for one week, listing the pleasant events that occur every day, however small or inconsequential.

Try to record events as they happen, not at the end of the day, because it will be hard to recall all the key information. Ask yourself the following questions to focus your awareness on the experience as it's happening:

•What was the experience?

•How did your body feel, in detail, during this experience?

•What thoughts or images accompanied the event?

•What feelings and emotions accompanied the event?

•What thoughts are in your mind now as you write this down?

It may be something as simple as enjoying a warming cup of tea on a bitter day, hearing a child laugh on the bus, having a chat with an old friend or seeing a beautiful sunrise on your way to work. The point is that if you actually make an effort to look out for opportunities to feel good, however small, you will realise that your day is packed with glorious moments, if you only let yourself see and experience them to the full.

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