It is common to feel your spirits fall as the nights draw in. Even if this turns into full-blown seasonal affective disorder, there are steps you can take to improve your mood. Know your enemy One in five Americans feel some kind of winter blues, according to the psychiatrist Norman Rosenthal, the leading expert on the subject; the figure is even higher in the UK. As well as low spirits, common symptoms include fatigue, a lack of energy, a desire to sleep more, listlessness at work, and craving sweets and pasta. More than 30 years ago, Rosenthal and his colleagues at the US’s National Institute of Mental Health named the most extreme form seasonal affective disorder (Sad). Don’t get hung up on terms The only difference between winter blues and Sad is the severity of the effects. “People with the winter blues tend to manage with life’s basic demands, albeit with difficulty,” Rosenthal has written, while those with Sad “suffer setbacks in their relationships and at work as they withdraw from friends and loved ones, as energy flags and concentration falters; and they are significantly unhappier.” The same steps will help with both conditions, although the worst cases may require counselling, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy or antidepressants. Get more light into your life Make the most of every scrap of daylight, perhaps by going for a walk at lunchtime, opening your curtains as wide as they will go from dawn to dusk or replacing your morning train journey with a cycle ride. It may be worth investing in a light box from the likes of Lumie and the Sad Lightbox Company. Rosenthal recommends looking for a box that will put out at least 10,000 lux. There are portable versions. Watch what you eat You may find yourself craving pure sugars and white starches, but Rosenthal warns that they will only lead to more cravings. “Low-impact carbs such as unprocessed oats, legumes, almonds and walnuts are better, as are high-protein foods, which help keep sweet cravings down.” Keep active and entertained “Socialising is good for your mental health,” says the NHS. “Make an effort to keep in touch with people you care about and accept any invitations you get to social events, even if you only go for a little while.” Exercise can also lift your mood.
Many animal-lovers think a cat or dog can help you live a longer, happier, healthier life. But does the science back them up?. My childhood dog was called Biff. Biff was a handful. He was a loud, cocky shetland sheepdog who oozed bravado and bravery. Yet, underneath it all, he struggled with the dog version of impostor syndrome. Biff was a bag of masked insecurity. He was like the kid in school who says he has seen all the scary movies, but refuses to go to any sleepovers where scary movies are played; the kid who has “a girlfriend at another school”. It was that fragile side I especially loved about Biff during my teenage years. We shared an insecurity that neither of us had the cognitive skills to put into words. This was a friendship – one that lasted as he grew older, grumpier and more infirm. He was an exceptionally licky dog, and loved nothing more than slurping his tongue over our jeans, shoes, socks and coats. Officially, this behaviour was something we attempted to quash – but, every few nights, I would tiptoe into the kitchen and allow him to lick my naked hands and wrists to his heart’s content. For me, the sensation was tickly and calming, and never once disgusting, even though those around me told me it was not a good idea, mainly because it was highly likely that, on any given day, Biff had stuck his snout into some poor fox’s rotting cadaver. I didn’t care. I washed my hands like a surgeon afterwards, obviously. But it was what Biff wanted. I haven’t had a dog since Biff (I’m nearly 40), and my family and I are deciding whether it’s time to get our own dog. This feels like a very big decision. Part of the reason we want a dog is that we want to walk more. We want to be healthier. We want to be happier. But questions flutter anxiously in the pit of my stomach. Will having a pet really make us happier? Will we be healthier? Does having a pet always make us better people? The good news, at face value, is this: if you are looking for proof that having a pet improves your general health, the evidence abounds. For instance, there is plenty about how a bout of pet-stroking can lower your heart rate ( and the pet’s), easing your body into a less stressed condition. This seems to apply across the spectrum, from dogs and cats to snakes and goats. And there’s more. There’s evidence from Germany and Australia (sample size: 10,000) that pet-owners make fewer visits to the doctor and, from China, that pet-owners sleep more soundly than those who aren’t. Just last week, the American Heart Association reported that the survival prospects for people who have had heart attacks and strokes are better in dog-owners than in those who are not. There are other bonuses to having pets, especially cats and dogs. Scientists suspect that by roaming the wild and bringing novel bacteria back into our houses, some pets may introduce our immune systems to pathogens we would not otherwise meet, allowing pet-owners (and particularly children) a chance to increase their resistance, while potentially reducing the chances of allergies in later life. A 2015 study investigating the fungal and bacterial communities of 1,200 homes in the US, for instance, found that the presence of dogs and cats led to more variety in 56 and 24 classes of bacterial species respectively. This may explain another study suggesting that exposure to dogs early in a baby’s life may make them 13% less likely to develop asthma. You could also argue that pet ownership helps us to feel better about ourselves. A loving owner can give an animal a far better life than it otherwise would have had: always-friendly faces, constant compassion, cuddles and hands to lick late at night – not just to help pathogenic resistance but just because it makes both parties happier, warmer and more contented residents of planet Earth. That was what Biff and I had. Two species, both with equal rights to the same shared, loving home. Connection. This stuff is hard to measure, but research has shown that dogs and cats see a s pike in their levels of the “love molecule” oxytocin when interacting with their owners. If they feel so much affection for us, we must be doing something right. So far so good: it really does seem there’s some truth to the claim that pets are good for us. But closer inspection reveals some problematic and murkier truths. As many academics have pointed out, other factors contribute to our general health – income, for instance, which is inherently linked to pet ownership because pets cost money. Bluntly, the truth behind some of these studies may simply be that those with more money can, on the whole, afford the luxuries of good health and pet ownership. One large-scale study in California involving 5,200 families failed to find a relationship between owning a pet and overall health after correcting for income and the affluency of the local neighbourhood. Other studies have had similar results. And some even suggest pets are bad for us. One study of 21,000 people in Finland, for instance, suggested that pet owners are more, not less, likely to have higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels. If you really want to go there, there are some pretty alarming downsides to pet ownership. In England, for instance, between 6,000 and 7,000 people are admitted to hospital for dog bites each year. Tripping over pets is another potential danger – each year, this sends an estimated 87,000 people to hospitals in the US, particularly elderly people. And what of the parasites that pets bring into the house – the fleas, ticks and mites? And the potentially fatal diseases they can transmit to humans, from pathogens such as salmonella ( from reptiles) and capnocytophaga that can be passed to humans in cat and dog saliva? For many people, the answer to whether pets are good for us is clearly no – although, to be fair, you are far more likely to be exposed to disease or violence by another human than by a dog, cat or pygmy hedgehog. There are emotional downsides, too. One of the often forgotten aspects of pet ownership is having to care for animals into their old age, sometimes dealing with diseases that last months or years. Assuming you are a responsible pet owner, who takes this as seriously as you would caring for a human family member, this is a heavy emotional burden. A 2017 study involving 238 human participants found that pet owners with chronically ill pets had higher levels of stress and anxiety, coupled with a lower quality of life. And after death? My guess is that a family grieving for their recently dead cat is not going to appear in an advert for Pets at Home any time soon. But there is probably no more damning indictment of the idea that pets always make us happier than the fact that so many of us get an animal, only to give them up weeks, months or years later. This is especially true for “designer” and “handbag” dogs: in the past seven years, the number of chihuahuas in RSPCA rescue centres has risen by 700%; dachshunds are up 600% and pomeranians up 440%. You need only scour dogsofinstagram for a few moments to see how often certain dog breeds are viewed as lifestyle accessories rather than living, breathing animals with greater needs than colour-coordinated doggy pop-socks and collar. If we were able to put all these pros and cons into a melting pot and come up with a definitive answer to the question of whether or not pets are good for us, what would the answer be? The answer would be … complicated. Because humans and our circumstances are so universally mixed up and complex. The simple truth is that having a pet has good and bad sides, and it may not be for everyone. Which means we have a duty to think carefully before acquiring one. We need to imagine the good times we might have with a pet and to consider the bad times, too: the insecurity, the grumpiness in old age, the infirmity. I think I have talked my way out of having a dog. If so, that’s OK. Loving animals doesn’t mean you have to have one. Ask not what a pet can do for you, but what you can do for a pet.
A little dust-up between cousins at nappy-change time is a reminder of the real virtues of family. It wasn’t a particularly hard smack. His fists are small, doughy things; fat and soft with dimples for knuckles, sunken into the flesh like the buttons of a sofa cushion. But it was a low blow, against his own cousin, and while she was having her nappy changed, no less. Even the most unreasonable prize fighter would never hit an opponent while they were lying down and, though I’ve never checked, I imagine that rule would count doubly if they were having their arse cleaned. We had taken the boy to stay with his cousins, Ardal and Nora, last week. My son is the baby of the entire family, so all his cousins fawn over him, despite being only negligibly older themselves. At just under two, Nora is the second youngest, an incorrigibly sweet-natured girl with a blazing smile and a mop of tight blonde curls, yet she acts like she’s never seen something so delightfully childish as my son in her long and storied life. The 162-day head-start she has on him has bred a certain airy superiority – a bit like that you get from being four episodes ahead of your friend in a true crime podcast, wincing each time they say they still suspect the boyfriend. I loved growing up in a big family, and spending time with his 14 cousins allows my son to experience the best bits of that experience without me having to sire a dozen kids myself. And he’s a fan of the hand-me-downs he gets by way of Lego, jumpers and wellies. Alas, he’s less fond of our attention being divided while babysitting, and this trip led to his first fight. My wife had been tending to Nora’s nappy when the smack happened, as he’d crawled across the room in a fit of jealousy and slapped his cousin’s head. It was startling to see his frowning little face and Nora’s sense of betrayal; to see the fury in his eyes when we remonstrated with him. Parenting often forces you to inhabit your child’s emotions, to learn or relearn some long-lost state, of sheer joy, unbridled excitement, devastating loss – some emotion you haven’t felt for 30 years, present once more. Here was rage, pure and simple. And then, minutes later, they’d made up as if nothing had happened. As much as I recall those fights, I also remember them not meaning much for very long. I’m used to extolling the virtues of family as being those of togetherness. But that’s forgetting its hidden treasures; the thousand dry runs it allows you for antisocial behaviour, a place where you can do and say stupid, hurtful things in a controlled environment, suffer the consequences, and still be friends a few minutes later. This, the chance to cannon around the house like a rabble of inter-personal crash test dummies, is the true benefit of family. The wellies and Lego are just a bonus. Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats
It’s time to match the season change and embrace your inner goth, with dark lips. Inky-black lipstick is a thing for AW19 and if you have an inner goth desperate for liberation then by all means knock yourself out. For everyone else, however, a burgundy iteration as seen at Chloé is a less intimidating option. While darker lip hues are always conversation-starting statements, I still maintain it’s open house – you just have to find your tribe. Classic? Go blood red. Experimental? Dark plum. Top tip? Keep everything else minimal. A touch of mascara, a hint of foundation and a barely there eye. Dangly earrings optional. Essentials 1. Tom Ford Lip Colour in Bruised Plum £40, tomford.com 2. Fenty Beauty Stunna Lip Paint in Undefeated £19, boots.com 3. Dior Rouge Dior Ultra Care Liquid in Paradise £30, dior.com 4. Elizabeth Arden Beautiful Colour Liquid Lipstick in Burgundy £18, johnlewis.com 5. Givenchy Le Rouge Night Noir in Nº5 Night in Plum £29, debenhams.com I can’t do without... A super serum from Japan’s top-selling brand Hada Labo Lotion No 1 Super Hydrator, £15.95, amazon.co.uk I started waxing lyrical about J beauty (Japanese beauty) brands a few years ago. Then, I could only really attest to the brands available in the UK I had personally road tested. When I visited Tokyo over the summer, I was determined to explore and buy tonnes of left-of-centre brands unavailable here. Instead, I bought a T-shirt with wording that was lost in translation, wasabi-flavoured KitKats and models of Tokyo trains. No beauty. Why? I was overwhelmed. Rows and rows of unidentifiable beauty products, mostly written in Japanese, immobilised me. So I left empty handed. One of the brands I did notice was Hada Labo. I didn’t know it at the time, but it is available here. It is the top-selling mainstream beauty brand in Japan. And this product is one reason why. There are hyaluronic acids and then there is a brand that takes things up a notch by combining four different types of hyaluronic acid. It boosts skin moisture way beyond the superficial. I love that it has a pump, the texture (not watery, not too thick) isn’t sticky or tacky, it’s equally brilliant on dehydrated and oily skins (hydration without the grease) and it layers extraordinarily well with other serums. I saw a difference in my skin – plumper, more supple and glowing – pretty much overnight. Hence, this is addictive. Just as well it comes in a huge bottle. On my radar: high-end, high-performance face masks Winter hair fix Curly and textured hair types will love this coconut and almond oil-infused mask. It is moisturising, prevents hair breakage and will get your hair through winter. Oribe Moisture and Control Deep Treatment Hair Mask, £57, net-a-porter.com Night worker A cocktail of plant-based ingredients – such as Padina pavonica, known for its thirst-quenching properties – make this a dream for dry skins. Pricey but worth it. Sisley Velvet Sleeping Mask, £93, sisley-paris.co.uk Easy peelers These colour-coded home facial peels – red for oily and acne-prone skin, yellow for hyperpigmentation, and blue for dry skin and rosacea – are fun but highly efficacious. Dr David Jack’s Face Paints, £139, spacenk.com Follow Funmi on Twitter @FunmiFetto
What links the Pompidou Centre with Highpoint 1, Sydney Opera House and Kingsgate Bridge? Photograph: Getty Images1 Which icon is the daughter of George and Margaret Roberts? 2 Adamstown (population 50) is only settlement on which island? 3 Which two elements have symbols that are pronouns? 4 Who popularised the wearing of “Turkish trousers”? 5 The UK invaded which European country on 10 May 1940? 6 Which bird can be tufted, horned or Atlantic? 7 Who “got an ice pick that made his ears burn”? 8 Historically, where was Outremer? What links: 9 Abducted by bullish Zeus; Florentine navigator; southern in Latin? 10 Stefani Germanotta; Godgifu; Jane Dudley; Claudia Johnson? 11 YHWH; El; Adonai; El Shaddai; Tzevaot? 12 Harriet Sutherland-Leveson‑Gower; John Brown; Abdul Karim? 13 Sydney Opera House; Pompidou Centre; Highpoint 1; Kingsgate Bridge? 14 Victor Hugo; Foch; Hoche; Marceau (and eight others)? 15 Fram; Terra Nova; Endurance?Who ‘got an ice pick that made his ears burn’? Photograph: Getty Images Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto The answers1 Barbie. 2 Pitcairn. 3 Iodine (I) and helium (he). 4 Amelia Bloomer (hence Bloomers). 5 Iceland. 6 Puffin (species). 7 Trotsky (in the Stranglers’ No More Heroes). 8 Holy Land (Crusader states). 9 Origins of continents’ names: Europe/Europa; America/Amerigo Vespucci; Australia/australis. 10 Known as Lady: Lady Gaga; Lady Godiva; Lady Jane Grey; “Lady Bird” Johnson. 11 Names of God in the Hebrew Bible. 12 Favourites of Queen Victoria: mistress of the robes; ghillie; attendant. 13 Engineered by Ove Arup. 14 L’Arc de Triomphe (avenues that meet at Place Charles de Gaulle in Paris). 15 Vessels on Antarctic expeditions: Amundsen; Scott; Shackleton.
‘Part of adulthood is learning to balance competing interests.’ Photograph: Getty Images Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphotoBefore checking out of our family holiday let, a minor disagreement broke out. The opponents: my boyfriend and my mother. The dispute: what to do with the remaining food. He argued that we should bin it – you can’t force yourself to eat when full. She argued that we should try: wasting food is gross, and we’d be less hungry later.They turned to me expectantly. I had become the referee.I could see both sides. Mum’s thinking reflects the way I was raised – with a scarcity mindset. If you don’t know when the next resource might appear, you’re compelled to use everything when you have it. But there’s more to it than that. Yes, we learned that every penny counts, but we were never discouraged from enjoying life. It was about spending on things we genuinely wanted (a nice early dinner) and not frittering idly (airport sandwiches). I guess you could call it the art of “mindful spending” (also: “not being a mug”).That said, I have self-flagellated many times on the altar of waste. Once, I phoned my boyfriend, miserable about working late. “I was supposed to cook the chicken,” I whimpered. “Now it’s going to spoil.” He told me I ought not to give a chicken such power over my wellbeing.Back to the debate. Part of adulthood is learning to balance competing interests, but this is a muscle I’ve only just begun to flex. I am not a mother, an older sibling, or a line manager. The responsibility to adjudicate rarely falls to me.I did what any proper adult would do. I weighed up who I was more scared would kick off (both! In different ways!) and solved it by wrapping everything in kitchen paper and carrying it around “just in case”. Sure, at one point I found melted cheese all over my favourite bag, but you can’t put a price on peace.
‘I don’t want to set a trap.’ (posed by models) Illustration: Guardian Design / GettyI think one of my children is stealing from me. Occasionally at home I’ll open my purse to find less in it than I expected. It’s only a few pounds here and there, but money is tight and I try to give them everything they need, even if I can’t always manage everything they want. What do I do? I don’t want to set a trap.• When leaving a message on this page, please be sensitive to the fact that you are responding to a real person in the grip of a real-life dilemma, who wrote to Private Lives asking for help, and may well view your comments here. Please consider especially how your words or the tone of your message could be perceived by someone in this situation, and be aware that comments that appear to be disruptive or disrespectful to the individual concerned will be removed.• Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure discussion remains on topics raised by the writer. Please be aware there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.• If you would like fellow readers to respond to a dilemma of yours, send us an outline of the situation of about 150 words. For advice from Pamela Stephenson Connolly on sexual matters, send us a brief description of your concerns.• All correspondence should reach us by Wednesday morning. Emailprivate.email@example.com (please don’t send attachments). Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see gu.com/letters-terms.
The duo have teamed up in a comedic video to help raise awareness of mental health.
Women are more likely to burn out because they have less authority or control over their work than men. Photograph: praetorianphoto/Getty ImagesCarolyn King reached a crossroads moment in her life, ironically, while negotiating a roundabout on the way to work.She hated her job, but had always been able to push through the Sunday night dread to turn up on time. Yet on this particular Monday morning, almost two years ago, King couldn’t exit the roundabout.“It was like I was possessed, my body was telling me not to go to work,” she says. “Instead, I turned around and drove to my GP.”King was burned out. Her job of 17 years at an international manufacturing company, where she managed their accounts, office and IT, was sapping the life out of her, largely due to a “micromanaging boss”.“I was very emotional, teary and agitated at work; I had a short fuse,” she says.“It really hit home to me when someone said to me, ‘You know, you’re such a different person outside of work to who you are at work.’”King, who is based in Victoria, quit the role almost two years ago and now runs her own small business.But the effects lingered.“Even three months after I quit, I found myself thinking, ‘I hate Sundays’, then I realised, ‘No, I don’t anymore.’”A 2018 report for the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute found that Australian workers are completing 312 hours of unpaid overtime per year, which adds up to two months per worker annually.> Many employees are working 19th-century hours at the expense of their mental and physical wellbeingAnother 2018 survey by mental health technology company Medibio, dubbed Australia’s Biggest Mental Health Check-In, found one-third of Australian employees in the corporate sector are affected by mental illness, with 31% of those people suffering from stress.“The majority of people in corporate Australia are living that dash-for-cash philosophy, and we are no longer working a standard week and having weekends off to enjoy downtime,” says Stuart Taylor, workplace expert and founder of corporate resilience training company Springfox.“There is a sense of always being ‘on’ even when you’re not actually at work.”An unrelenting workload was also familiar to Australia’s colonial antecedents.In 1856, Melbourne stonemasons marched to Parliament House to demand an eight-hour day, marking the beginning of a series of progressive labour laws that enshrined workers’ rights to clock off at a reasonable time.While these protections have been preserved to varying degrees in contemporary workplace agreements, many employees are nevertheless working 19th-century hours at the expense of their mental and physical wellbeing.“These days, the people who get paid the most are those who are working the most hours,” says Michael Leiter, a professor of industrial and organisational psychology at Victoria’s Deakin University.“It used to be those who worked the most hours were low-paid people trying to make a living.”In a sign of growing concern over the increased incidence of workplace burnout, the World Health Organisation recently added burnout to a list of occupational phenomenons, although it stopped short of labelling it a disease.WHO defines burnout as being characterised by exhaustion, cynicism or detachment from one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy at work.This chimes with King, who used to love her job and got on well with her previous manager.“But the new manager made me feel so devalued and like my opinion didn’t matter, even though I had seen the company grow over many years,” she says.Leiter has been studying burnout since the 1980s, and says the global nature of the business world has chipped away at Australia’s standard working hours.While burnout is “more intense” in the US, owing to precarious healthcare and higher levels of student debt, Australians are suffering too, he says.“There are definitely some people in Australia who are working their allotted hours and then they go home,” Leiter says.“However I think there is a significant slice in Australia, on the low and high wage-end of the scale, who are working ridiculous hours.”As Leiter, points out, burnout seems to affect those earning at the extreme ends of the spectrum: commercial lawyers working 100 hours a week as well as underemployed gig economy workers who struggle to earn a minimum wage ferrying delivery food to the same corporate lawyers too busy to cook.“The gig economy is totally hostile to a unionised framework, and then at the higher end of the pay scale if you want to compete globally, you have to scramble all the time,” Leiter says.Which speaks to one of the common features of burnout: an overwhelming sense that your work life, your career, is out of your control.A recent study by researchers from Montreal University tracking 2,026 people – half of whom were women – for four years, found that women were more likely to burn out because they had less authority or control over their work than men.“Whether someone has input into important decisions that affect their work is a major factor [in burnout],” Leiter says.“People have a real need for that autonomy. And by autonomy I don’t mean, ‘I can do whatever I like’, it’s about that feeling of making something happen as opposed to being acted upon.”This was certainly the case for King, who felt worn down by a lack of agency.“When my manager wanted something done, he wanted it done straight away,” she says,“If I wanted to put in a new procedure, he wouldn’t allow it and always wanted it his way even if it wasn’t the best.”> Meaningless work exhausts people, and it makes them more cynical> > Michael LeiterTaylor has worked with scores of corporates to help build resilience in stressful situations and says both men and women, senior or junior, can feel they lack control.“I know a lot of high-ranking executives who say they feel they have no control over what the board is doing,” Taylor says.If your workplace is not allowing workers any freedom whatsoever, then maybe it’s time to look for another job, Taylor suggests.“It may not be easy and it may take a while, but starting the process of looking is part of taking some control back,” he says.How invested employees feel in their work can also be the difference between exhilaration and exhaustion. “Within reason, doing work that really matters does not burn people out as quickly and, in fact, it often energises them,” Leiter says.And the problem, according to Leiter, is that many people are pulled away from work they enjoy to perform soul-crushing administrative tasks. “Technology gets a bad rap, but the problem with technology is that it allows employers to impose all kinds of administrative nonsense, such as compliance training, filling out forms, online time sheets,” he says.“This meaningless work exhausts people, and it makes them more cynical.”Leiter notes that millennials are more likely to feel the effects of burnout compared with other demographics, with a viral Buzzfeed article, “How millennials became the burnout generation”, capturing the mental load many young Americans feel.It appears to be no different in Australia, with a stress and wellbeing survey conducted by the Australian Psychological Society finding those aged 18 to 25 consistently report lower levels of wellbeing.“It’s a vulnerable time for burnout when you first start work as you’ve usually come from university or some form of training, which is more idealistic,” Leiter says.“So there is a conflict between the reality and the idealistic vision of work.”The tech-heavy aspect of much of modern work is not helpful for millennials either, according to Leiter.“While information technology opens access to resources that further a person’s work, it also opens users to distractions and to administrative busy work that will hurt their productivity in the long run,” he says.In King’s view, far too many of us have merged our identities with what we do for a living. “I honestly think a lot of people are lost and work is feeding people’s self-worth,” she says. “After all, you don’t have time to realise you’re unhappy if you’re working all the time.”
Could the couple's recent moves be part of a wider plan to redefine the royal relationship with the media?
The long-running series in which readers answer other readers’ questions on subjects ranging from trivial flights of fancy to profound scientific and philosophical concepts. I take a blood thinner and I’ve always wanted to know, if a mosquito bites me, does it die, as drugs such as Warfarin are more or less rat poison? Kate Davey Post your answers – and new questions – below or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org