This article is by freelance writer Rachel Michaella Finn
Feeling a bit down now winter is officially here and the nights are getting longer and darker? Turns out you’re not alone. It could be the winter blues. And according to a 2014 study commissioned by The Weather Channel and YouGov, just over half (57%) of adults say their mood is worse in the winter compared to summer, whilst 40% said they suffered from fatigue in the winter months.
After a summer of sun, warmth and light evenings, it’s incredibly normal to feel a little glum once we transition into colder, darker months. But if any of this sounds similar to you and you’re looking for ways to feel a little more motivated and positive this winter, here are some ways you can beat the winter blues and feel like your normal self again.
Get More Light
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the amount of natural daylight we get plays a key part in our mood during winter, according to Alison Kerry from MIND. And most scientists now believe there could be a link between the winter blues and the way the body responds to daylight. Speaking to the NHS, Alison explains: “One theory is that light entering the eye causes changes in hormone levels in the body. In our bodies, light functions to stop the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, making us wake up.”
This means that shorter daylight hours in the winter can cause some people to “produce higher melatonin, causing lethargy and symptoms of depression.” So if you’re struggling with winter blues and you’re also leaving for work or uni in the dark hours of the morning and getting back when it’s dark in the evening, it may be a simple case of getting outside more during lighter hours to give your mood a boost.
Try and structure more time in the daylight into your routine each day, whether that’s exercising outdoors as opposed to in the gym or going for a walk at lunchtime. Another option to consider is light therapy, which involves sitting in front of a box that produces a very bright light that mimics the effect of natural daylight.
We all know exercise is good for us, but how many of us are guilty of doing less of it once winter kicks in and cold temperatures make us want to hibernate? If your schedule allows, exercising outdoors during daylight allows you to tick off two winter blues beating tactics in one go, combining endorphin-boosting exercise with mood-boosting sunlight exposure. But if not, bear in mind that just a small amount of exercise, whatever the time of day, can have really positive effects on your mood. The NHS recommends doing 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, which works out at about 20 minutes a day, but a 2017 study by the Black Dog Institute found that even managing to fit in one hour of exercise a week can help fight off a depressive mood.
It’s important not to be too harsh on yourself if you’re struggling to get out and keep active, but if that’s the case, ask how you can build small bits of exercise into your daily routine. Could you walk to a friend’s house instead of taking the bus, for example, or could you take the slightly longer walking route home from work? Whatever it is, start small and build up your physical activity from there.
Get some mood foods
It can be tempting to just eat pasta, pasta and more pasta throughout winter, but it’s worth paying extra attention to what you’re eating when you know you’re prone to feeling low. Whilst carbohydrates like pasta, pizza and bread are important for maintaining energy levels, they can also make you feel a bit sluggish.
Aim to eat more fruit and veg – and that could be as simple as making sure to have an extra serving of vegetables at dinner or swapping cooked breakfasts out for fruit. One study found that a lack of Vitamin D and Omega 3 can contribute to lower mood, so consider taking a supplement or multivitamin to protect against any dietary deficiencies that may mean you’re not feeling quite 100% and keep the winter blues at bay.
Also check this article we wrote on how to eat to fuel your mood.
Meditation boasts a huge array of benefits, including a reduction in stress, anxiety, improved self-awareness and a better attention span, and you can get started with just ten or fifteen minutes each day.
The key is to just take some time to really relax your body and mind, clear out negative thoughts and focus only on the present moment and your breathing/thoughts at the time (known as being mindful, which we wrote about here). It’s really easy to get started too; if you’re new to to it, the app Headspace, for example, offers a free 10-day beginners course in meditation that only requires you to put in ten minutes a day.
Also check out our feature on the eight best apps for improving your mental health.
Know it’s ok to ask for help
All of the above make great tools to use in order to help keep your physical and mental health in check, but it’s important to remember that these won’t work for everyone. The NHS estimates that approximately 1 in 15 people in the UK experience a more severe type of the winter blues – known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD for short) – between September and April each year, with symptoms tending to peak between December and February. Mental health charity MIND suggests that some of the symptoms of SAD include; “lack of energy for everyday tasks, such as studying or going to work” as well as “concentration problems, depression, anxiety and overeating” with symptoms usually confined to the winter months. If you’re really struggling, it’s really important to talk to a friend or GP (and preferably both!) who’ll be able to support you through how you’re feeling.
Talking to colleagues or a trusted manager at work can also be beneficial in helping you come up with strategies on how you can best manage your workload, and check our feature on how to talk to your boss about your mental health, too. It’s important to remember though that feeling low in winter is incredibly common and symptoms are usually temporary, so it’s only a matter of time before you start to feel more positive again.