Nov 3, 2016

Beat those winter blues

So, it’s really happened. The clocks have gone back, the days are shorter and the summer seems like a distant memory. If you get a little down and lethargic during the winter months you’re not alone, a fifth of us get the winter blues to some extent from September to April.

I used to struggle annually with the winter blues but one year it hit me really badly and felt much more like a case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – the debilitating form of depression that affects about 8% of the population. After that experience I vowed to do all I could to make sure SAD and the winter blues didn’t floor me again. I’ve tried all kinds of things but here’s what I find works well for me. Hopefully some of them may be useful for you too.

First off, accept and embrace the change of season. Simply let go and embrace the season ahead. The winter months can be a beautiful time of year with many positives, think cosy fires, brisk walks, snuggly clothes and, for me, Saturday nights in with my children watching Strictly!

Get outdoors as much as you can. Take every opportunity to expose yourself to natural light, and do it regularly. Exposure to Vitamin D helps boost our levels of serotonin, our happy hormone. Get into the habit of eating outside during your lunch break. Ditch the car for short trips and walk/cycle instead. Pop outside for a couple of minutes while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil.

Stay active. Even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing, keep moving, keep moving, keep moving. Staying active can help lift your mood and raise your energy levels. You might want to do a 10 mile run or a vigorous spinning class but it doesn’t have to be that strenuous, a gentle walk or doing some housework is good too.

Don’t hide away. Just don’t. It’s easy to stay at home, avoid other people and live like a hermit when you’re feeling low this time of year but no matter how hard it is, force yourself out there and interact with people. Even if it’s popping to the shop for some milk, it really helps.

Eat well. Taking a much healthier approach to my diet has made a huge difference to my mental well-being throughout the year. We all tend to crave sweet stodgy food during the winter but a diet which steers clear of junk food and sugar, and is packed full of vegetables, fruit, wholegrains and protein is a better way to go. Think hearty home made soups, stews, porridge, lentils and beans. Foods such as avocado, cottage cheese, beans, fish, chicken and turkey are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid which helps produce more serotonin. Eating brain-nourishing foods that are rich in omega-3 oils, such as oily fish, seeds, nuts and green leafy vegetables, will help that serotonin production. Good food sources of Vitamin D are oily fish, meat, liver, egg yolks and fortified foods such as breakfast cereals. And it may sound boring but avoid drinking too much alcohol – it’s a depressant and messes up your sleep. Keep yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of water and soothing herbal teas.

Keep stress at bay. Try to manage your stress levels at this time of year. Make work-life balance a priority, make relaxation/downtime an integral part of your day, and avoid major life events such as moving house during this time of year. The festive season can be an additional stressor during the winter so it’s worth planning ahead to ensure you don’t take on too much, look after yourself properly and find healthy ways to relax and unwind.

Stick to a regular sleep pattern. Try to get to bed at a reasonable hour and wind down properly before you turn in. Don’t watch TV or view devices at least an hour before bed as the bright light may affect your sleep. 

Get a light box. This has been a revelation for me! Light therapy has been shown to be effective in about 85% of diagnosed cases of SAD so it must help boost the mood. Light boxes are available in different strengths, sizes and models but a 10,000 lux strength box may be the most effective. You can fit it in no matter what your routine, for example by having it on while you’re working, cooking and eating. My 10,000 lux model is plugged into a timer and comes on for an hour in the morning while I’m getting ready and that’s enough to make a positive difference to me. It’s recommended that you start using your light box in early autumn before any symptoms appear so if you’ve always thought about getting one, buy one now!

Finally, do seek extra help if you’re struggling. Please don’t be embarrassed to seek support. Talk to your partner, friends, family and GP. Counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) may be an option, as may medication in some cases. The Samaritans are simply amazing and are available 24/7. Expert organisations such as SADA and Mind have some great resources too. 

Keep warm, keep well, keep happy x

image: SADpicnov16blogversion.jpg

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