There’s an old saying – very old in fact, dating from 1650 – which goes, “it’s always darkest before the dawn”.

I think it would be useful for us to latch on to it right now because I don’t remember a year when more people have told me they’re really struggling with lack of light and perpetual low mood. 

I mentioned the woes of January to a friend last week and she immediately responded: “Yes. The only month with 24 weeks in it!”  Well, it certainly can seem like that, can’t it?

Even the most positive men and women I know have told me that this year it seems dark in a way they’ve never noticed before.

Of course, those of us living in rural areas know we have to accept that when it’s dark it can be very dark indeed. But even my friends and family who live in illuminated towns and cities seem to be feeling equally at odds with nature. 

To be fair, we’ve now had a number of bright, clear, sunny days. These are a real tonic.

And when I can, I make the most of them and go out and walk. As I write today though it’s quite grey and unappealing. But I think the real problem for us all is that on October 20, the day Storm Babet hit East Anglia bringing torrential rain and flooding, we felt we had been prematurely propelled into winter.

And this notion was reinforced when more storms followed and we endured a very long period of daily rain and darkness.

No wonder we’re finding this season such a drag.  

Recently, a colleague, who is a doctor, said to me: “I’m beginning to think that this year everyone’s suffering from SAD”. I almost laughed because this is the sort of comment that medics usually criticise lay people for saying, claiming that it’s unscientific. But he was quite serious and actually, I think he’s probably right.

So, I thought maybe we should all treat ourselves as if we do have SAD, or seasonal affective disorder to give it its full name, and see if we can use some tried and tested tactics that may well improve how we’re feeling.  

  1. Put more lights on in the house, especially in the early mornings and late evenings. Also, when you’re reading or doing anything with your hands, use more lighting than usual. We all get irritable if we can’t see properly; 
  2. Add a candle or two to the supper table. There’s something mellow, gorgeous and romantic about candlelight that tends to lift our mood and makes food taste better; 
  3. Dig out your brightest jumpers and scarves and wear them. Colour lifts us out of gloom;
  4. Drop what you’re doing when the sun shines and go out in it even if you only walk to the shops and back;
  5. Avoid stodgy foods that weigh you down. Instead, focus on those that are colourful, healthy and packed with vitamins, like homemade vegetable soups. Or why not try your hand at something like a casserole with aubergines, courgettes, red, green and yellow peppers and tomatoes, and serve it with fresh broccoli and some roasted sweet potato? This will be a “rainbow on a plate”. We’re told by nutritionists that our gut loves this kind of variety, but it’s  cheering for the mind too.   

If these strategies aren’t sufficient, then you may want to consider investing in a lamp 
specifically recommended for seasonal affective disorder.

Here’s a useful assessment in Good Housekeeping which should help you decide on the best option for you:

However, if your low mood still refuses to lift, and you feel you’re becoming seriously depressed, please go and talk to your doctor because you may need medication to help you. 

Meanwhile, try to take heart because we are over the worst for this year.

On January 1, sunrise in most of East Anglia was around 8.05am and sunset at 3.52pm.

But already we’re getting about 15 extra minutes of light in the morning and half an hour more in the evenings.

And by March 1 we’ll benefit at each end of the day from around 70 minutes more light than we have at the moment.  

Finally, if you’ve spent the last few weeks saying to yourself that you really cannot go through another winter like this one, start making plans to ensure that next year is different. I know many people who now forego a summer holiday abroad in favour of saving their money for a week to 10 days of January-sun. You might want to consider this.

Most of us don’t need a mood boost in the middle of the year anything like as much we do right now.  

A neighbour told me she’s seriously thinking of getting together a group of mates to go somewhere reliably warm and sunny next January.

I hope she’ll include me!