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Blog | 10 December 2019

How to beat the winter blues

By Annabel Rose

Winter may not officially begin until late December, but the clocks have gone back and the temperature’s dropped, so for many, the winter blues have already set in.

The winter blues are common, and we have an idea of why they happen. Light affects hormones and neurotransmitters that are involved in how the brain controls sleep, appetite, temperature, mood, and activity. Add that to the way weather affects the places we socialise, and cold rainy days, and it’s easy to see why autumn and winter can be a struggle.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that people experience during certain seasons or times of year – in the UK, around 3 people in every 100 have significant winter depressions. Not everyone experiencing the winter blues has SAD, and for some people, SAD happens in summer (when light and daytime also change), but it’s still good to be aware of the condition and its symptoms. If your feelings are making day to day life hard, it may be a good idea to ask for help by making an appointment with your GP or talking to a charity such as Mind

We can’t fix the weather (sorry about that), but we’ve put together some top tips to help you navigate the coming months. We’ve tried to keep it practical – but we’re all different, so not everything will be possible or helpful for everyone. If you have any top tips, why not share them with us in the comments on Twitter or Facebook?

Take care of your body

You might find that the colder weather dries out your skin and hair, so stock up on your favourite moisturisers and snack on foods full of vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids (think nuts and seeds, plant oils, leafy vegetables, and fish).

Get outside as much as possible

The Royal College of Psychiatrists recommends getting as much natural sunlight as possible by spending as much time as you can outside during daylight hours. Exercising is also a great way to tackle low mood, though it doesn’t have to be intense, and you should make sure you’re prepared for the weather.

You might want to wait for a dry day to wrap up warm and head off for a short walk. Take time to appreciate this time of year, and see how it makes you feel. There’s plenty to notice: how it feels to breathe in the cold air, how trees and plants look different with the seasons, or simply the way the ground sounds under your feet.

Stay productive

When your low mood matches the gloomy weather, you may want to hibernate and abandon your to-do list entirely. Although it’s tempting to give up, doing purposeful activities and achieving things boosts neurotransmitters that help mood (including dopamine and serotonin).

What ‘productive’ looks like is up to you – it might mean putting things in place to make it easier to go to work or school, it might mean volunteering, or it could be other little tasks that use your time well. Why not check out your local library, put some music on and tackle a disorganised cupboard, or use your creativity to cook a tasty meal?

As always, set small, manageable targets – and take time to recognise (and feel proud of) your successes.

Spend time with others

Darker evenings and colder weather can make it harder to get out and spend time with friends or family, but it’s worth making the effort.

Spending time together at this time of year doesn’t have to be expensive: you could host a movie night or go for a walk with layers of clothing (and a hot drink from home). Don’t worry about being the perfect host or the most entertaining friend – if you’re not feeling up to conversation, choose an activity you can enjoy quietly together, for example, heading to a local museum.

Know you can talk about how you feel (or not – it’s up to you)

You don’t have to talk about how you’re feeling, if you don’t want to. Distractions can be really helpful if you’re experiencing low mood.

If you do want to chat about it though, you’ll probably be surprised by just how many people relate. If there’s not anyone around in the moment to listen, or you don’t feel comfortable talking to your friends or family, the volunteers at Childline and Samaritans mean that there’ll always be someone there to help.

Keep doing things you enjoy

Don’t give up on activities and hobbies if you can keep them up year-round. Keep going to things like choirs or sports clubs, and keep up any interests such as baking, craft, or learning a language.

When your mood’s low, you might not feel like joining in, or continuing with hobbies, but do your best to give it a go anyway. If it’s still not helping, you can always stop – but you might find that once you’re stuck in, some of the sense of enjoyment returns.

Find the good in this time of year

We’ve talked a lot about the downsides of autumn and winter – lots of people struggle with the dark evenings, cold weather, and fewer opportunities to be outside. It’s not all bad, though; there are some positives to be found.

Some people love watching the way nature changes throughout these few months, while others focus on the excuse to bring out the cosy knitwear and slippers. Cold weather’s also a great excuse for hot chocolates and comforting dinners (and limited edition food in supermarkets and cafes). For some people, it’s all about wintery scents (we’re fond of nutmeg and cinnamon) or special occasions (such as Diwali, the birth of Guru Nanak, Hanukkah, and Christmas).

We’re not pretending that any of these tips will make winter everyone’s favourite season, but not all hope is lost, and we’re not powerless to try small helpful actions. Reach out for support and do your best to take care of yourself – before we know it, spring will be just around the corner.

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