Are you feeling down with the onset of the colder months? If so, you’re not alone. The shorter days and gloomy weather take their toll on our wellbeing, and while the festive period is a time of joy for many of us, the high expectations to be happy can sometimes cause stress and loneliness.
Many people feel a bit low and lethargic over winter, but if the change in weather is having a severe impact on your mood and affecting your daily life you might have seasonal affective disorder or ‘SAD’. This is a type of depression that’s triggered by certain seasons and weather conditions.
Whether you’re struggling to cope with the festive season or the cold weather has left you feeling depressed, the good news is there are things you can do to boost your spirits. Read on for the best self-care tips to help you stay positive over winter.
1 Keep active
You might not feel like being active when it’s cold, but exercise really is one of the best ways to improve your wellbeing. Getting the blood pumping releases happy hormones like dopamine and norepinephrine, which work to energise the brain. And you don’t have to spend hours at the gym to feel the benefit either – a 15 minute brisk walk each day in your lunchbreak is enough to boost your mood.
2 Get as much natural light as you can
Natural light makes you more alert and happy, and exposure to natural light in the day helps you sleep better at night-time, too. In fact, one of the reasons we can feel low in winter is because there’s less natural light. To combat this, go outdoors in daylight as much as possible, especially at midday and on brighter days. And if you do need to stay indoors, open the curtains and sit near a window if you can. Another way to make the most of the daylight is by painting your walls in a light, reflective colour.
3 Have a healthy diet
It’s tempting to resort to stodgy and sugary foods when it’s cold, especially over the festive period. But research has shown your diet has a surprisingly big impact on your mental health. You don’t have to abstain from the food you enjoy, but try to include complex carbs like broccoli and lentils to help you avoid sugar spikes, and eat foods rich in mood-boosting nutrients such as fish, nuts, avocados and mushrooms.
4 Connect with other people
It’s been proven that socialising is great for your mental health. So resist the temptation to hibernate and accept any invitations you get, even if you only stay for a short while. And reach out to the people you care about with invitations of your own. If you don’t have friends or family nearby, joining a local community group or volunteering for a local charity is a good way to meet new people.
5 Start a new hobby
Keeping your mind occupied with a new hobby is very effective for warding off the symptoms of SAD. Your new interest can be anything you like: painting, singing, keeping a journal, or writing a blog. Our brains are hard-wired to thrive on novel experiences, and a new hobby gives you something to look forward to and focus on.
6 Try light therapy
Research has shown that between 50% and 80% of people who get the winter blues benefit from light therapy. You can get light therapy at home by sitting near a light box for half an hour each day during autumn and winter. Light boxes offer the energising benefits of natural light, giving out very bright light that’s at least 10 times stronger than indoor lighting.
7 Join a support group
If you’re struggling with SAD, consider joining a support group. Sharing your experience with others who know first-hand what it’s like to have SAD is very therapeutic, and you can also get new tips and insights into ways to cope.
When to seek professional help
If you’re feeling very depressed or your mood doesn’t seem to be improving, it’s a good idea to seek professional help. You deserve to feel better, and reaching out to a doctor or therapist can make all the difference.
See a counsellor
Talking in confidence to a counsellor can help you find ways to cope with the symptoms of SAD, and can uncover the source of your depression. A counsellor won’t try to impose their opinions on you, but will always be willing to understand things from your point of view. He or she will give you a supportive and safe environment where you can talk freely about how you feel without being judged.
Speak to your doctor
If you’re feeling depressed it’s a good idea to see your GP, who may offer you antidepressants, either on their own or in combination with talking therapy. These are usually selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) which work by increasing the levels of your brain’s chemical messenger serotonin. It’s thought that serotonin has a positive impact on your mood and sleep patterns.
Do you need someone to talk to?
I’m a trained person-centred counsellor and hypnotherapist here to help you, whatever you’re going through. If you’d like someone to talk to, you’re welcome to get in touch with me. I have a quiet therapy room in the Manchester area, and I also offer counselling via Skype if you live further afield.
Mind – the national mental health charity website has a section dedicated to SAD which includes info on treatment. The website also features articles written by people who’ve been diagnosed with SAD.
National Counselling Society (NCS) – the professional association for counsellors has a national directory of qualified therapists, searchable by area.
SANE is a national charity that supports anyone affected by mental illness, including a sufferer’s family and carers. SANE has a helpline: 0300 304 7000 which is open every day of the year from 4.30pm to 10.30pm.
The Samaritans – 116-123 is a helpline that’s free and open 24/7, for anyone in emotional distress. It’s run by trained volunteers.