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  • Writer's pictureDominique du Pré

Are you pulling a 'sickie' today?

Don't worry - if you are, you are probably in good company. Today is actually National Sickie Day (yes there is a 'day' for everything) where an estimated 350,000 people will take the day off work. But why is the first Monday in February the peak time for this?

The time of year means you might genuinely be ill. Cold and 'flu viruses thrive in winter when we shut doors and windows trapping ourselves in warm environments with lots of other people. But a large proportion of the phone calls to the office aren't due to real illness.

We all feel grumpy from time to time. I have to confess, this isn't a great time of year for me and my grumpy meter is running quite high. That's ok though. We are all entitled to wallow in our disgruntled demeanour for a while. It can be quite a productive time as long as we can work out why we are feeling bad-tempered. So what might be causing a crabby mood?

For me, it is definitely partly seasonal. The lack of light and cold weather aren't conducive to feeling jolly. SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), sometimes called "winter depression"is said to affect 29% of British adults. We can experience low mood, lethargy, weight gain, tiredness, feelings of despair and general grumpiness.

There is a biological basis for SAD - lack of sunlight can lead to your body producing more melatonin (the sleepy hormone) and less serotonin (the happy hormone). The result is that persistent low and sluggish feeling. If your finances won't allow for a Caribbean holiday, try exposing yourself to as much natural light as possible by simply being outdoors. There are also artificial lights on sale which mimic natural light.

This can also be a difficult time of year because there is a lack of something to look forward to. Love it or loathe it, most of us get caught up in that Christmas build up. The familiar sounds of Slade and Wizzard blasting out in every shop, the twinkling lights and the Christmas related treats all become part of a well rehearsed ritual and can give a sense of purpose and a happy, expectant buzz. Once the festivities finish, it suddenly seems a bit grey and dull and the summer sun feels an age away. It is no coincidence that this is also one of the busiest times for holiday companies. We need something to look forward to.

But when do you know if you are simply feeling grumpy or if you are depressed? The answer isn't simple but if your low mood doesn't lift after a few days or weeks or after you have made a few changes to cheer yourself up, you might be experiencing depression. No two people with depression experience the same symptoms but here are some possible signs:

  • you feel low for more than a couple of weeks

  • you find it difficult to enjoy life, especially things you normally enjoy

  • you are constantly tired, even if you are sleeping more

  • you have difficulty sleeping or sleep a lot more than usual

  • your appetite changes - you comfort eat or find eating difficult

  • you find it difficult to concentrate - this can affect work, socialising, hobbies etc

  • you feel unable to cope

  • you may think about hurting yourself and may have suicidal thoughts

J K Rowling described her depression: "Sadness is not a bad thing - to cry and to feel. Depression is that really hollowed out feeling."

The causes of depression are as varied as the symptoms. There are genetic factors; it can be triggered by physical factors such hormones, sleep problems, low blood sugar; it can be a side affect of some drugs or medication; life events such as bereavement can lead to depression; it can be associated with other mental health conditions such as PTSD. It can be described as mild, moderate or severe and can be persistent or appear as depressive episodes.

One in 10 of us will experience depression at some point and 3 million people are currently diagnosed with depression in the UK. There is help available for depression so it is always advisable to see your GP. Medication can really help some people. Talking Therapies and other forms of counselling can also be hugely beneficial. Help is out there and you don't have to suffer alone.

On a lighter note, if you have rung in sick today, I wonder what excuse you used? Did you stick to a safe tried and tested excuse like "I've got 'flu, I can't get out of bed" or were you more creative? One of my favourites is the employee who claimed she couldn't come in because she was recovering from the trauma of finding a big spider in her home. I wonder how big that spider actually was?!

If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or thoughts of suicide, call your GP or the Samaritans on 116 123.

If you think counselling might help, get in touch.

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