As we make the chilly transition from autumn into winter, it’s not uncommon for people’s moods to dip along with the temperatures. It’s cold, the days are short, work or education is in full swing, and the Christmas holidays are still too far away to provide much comfort.
According to the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association, about 20 per cent of the UK’s population suffer from what’s often called the”winter blues”, a noticeable decline in mood characterised by grumpiness, a lack of motivation and lethargy.
In addition, around 3 -5 per cent of the population suffer from a more severe condition, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which constitutes a seasonal form of depression. We spoke to Richard Colwill from the mental health charity Sane, and Leah Parker-Turnock from Mind, to find out some simple, practical things you can do every day to keep your spirits up during the depths of the winter months.
Make time for natural light
While no-one is exactly sure of the causes of seasonal depression, most experts agree that it’s linked to our lack of exposure to natural light, particularly in the Northern hemisphere. “It is worthwhile trying to ensure your daily schedule allows you as much direct exposure to sunlight as possible at this time of year,” says Colwill.
If you work in an office, this means taking a break from the ubiquitous desk lunch and ensuring that you take the time to have a walk around outside, even if just for a few minutes. This is particularly important in winter, as most people commute when it’s dark.
Stock up on your vitamins “As the festive season approaches, many of our diets will be high in stimulants such as sugar, caffeine and alcohol,” says Parker-Turnock.
“As tempting as it is to reach for comfort foods to cheer you up, eating lots of foods high in fat and carbohydrate can often cause blood sugar levels to crash, resulting in sluggishness. It may also increase your anxiety levels.”
“A healthy balanced diet is as important for your mental health as your physical health, so it’s best to include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as fatty oils such as omega-3 and 6. Some people find that taking extra vitamin B12 is helpful.”
Do something creative
Perhaps surprisingly, Parker-Turnock explains that creative activities are particularly therapeutic because they help you switch off from day to day pressures, and turn negative thoughts or feelings into something positive: “Activities such as therapeutic knitting, crocheting and colouring-in – there has been a huge influx in adult colouring books in the last few years to help people with their wellbeing and mindfulness – have all been shown to have great positive impact for people experiencing all forms of depression including SAD.”
Exercise – even just a little
“While you may not feel like it during the winter, physical activity can be very effective in lifting your mood and increasing your energy levels. It doesn’t have to be anything particularly strenuous – doing housework, gardening or going for a gentle walk can all help,” says Parker-Turnock.
“Research shows that outdoor exercise, such as cycling or jogging, can be as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression. If running in winter isn’t for you, activities such as Zumba, dance classes and even trapeze classes have been shown to have many positive benefits with mental health.”
Spend time with friends or family
Although cold weather makes many of us feel like hibernating and shutting the world away, sharing your thoughts with friends or family can be invaluable for lifting your mood.
“If you know you find it hard to leave the house in extreme weather, make plans to speak to friends and family on the phone or ask if they can come and see you,” says Parker-Turnock.
“Talk to them about how you are feeling. If it’s just the cold that is putting you off, try to keep in mind that social contact could lift your mood and make arrangements during the day when it’s warmer and lighter.