The days are short and the nights are long, even though we’ve been promised that they are ‘getting longer’ now that we’ve got past midwinter. For many people, this can be a difficult time of year. The sparkle has literally come off in this post-Christmas/New year period and, for some, the ‘winter blues’ really start to kick in. It’s also a time of year when many of us succumb to the many lurgies that seem to be doing the rounds, and feel a little ‘under the weather’.
But the weather can do more than just leave you vulnerable to the odd cold and snivel. The cold, dark days also have a significant effect on our psychological well-being too, and can lead to something commonly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Some people are more susceptible to this than others, often for no apparent reason. It may be something to do with your unique ‘body clock’. Our biorhythms are influenced by light levels, leading in turn to changes in the chemical balance in the brain. It’s long been thought that mood is linked to the chemical balance in the brain, particularly when it comes to the chemical serotonin. Changes in light levels trigger changes in the amount of melatonin in the brain, which in turn activates either the release or suppression of serotonin. So it’s easy to see why winter can feel like a bit of slog. We feel sleepy, lethargic and our appetite is all over the place.
So, if you are feeling under the weather mood-wise, is there anything you can do about it? After all, the days don’t really start to feel longer until about the middle of March. Well, here are a few tips:
Let the daylight in. Something as simple as opening your curtains as soon as it starts to get light can help to re-set your body clock;
Brighten up your home. Improving the lighting in your home can have some effect, even though it is not natural daylight;
Get outside in the daylight. It’s easy to hunker down and hibernate at this time of year. But a brisk walk, even for just half an hour on a cloudy day, can make a significant difference to how you feel. If you work indoors, consider going out for a walk during your lunch break;
Take up a winter interest – active engagement with something that is going to absorb you can be a very effective way to combat low mood. If most of your hobbies involve the outdoors, and the weather has put paid to them, try something less dependent on the Met Office. You just need to find something that will ignite your passion;
Take a winter break. If you are able to, book a holiday in sunnier climes at this time of year. Even if it’s only for a short break, that top-up will help;
Watch what you eat. If you are susceptible to SAD, it is likely that you will also crave sugary, high carb food. But there be dragons! These foods give you an instant ‘hit’ or lift, but they are not good for your well-being (psychological or physical) in the long run. Foods that contain good levels of serotonin and tryptophan might also help to improve your mood. Aim for eggs, cheese, tofu, nuts and seeds and (interestingly) pineapple.
What about full spectrum light boxes? Well, some people swear by these devices, which are designed to mimic natural daylight. But they can be expensive, and the jury is still out on their effectiveness.
I hope some of these tips will be of use to you. Your mood and psychological well-being is shaped by many factors, one of which is the weather and time of the year. Sometimes, your overall mood can take a downward dip for a number of very finely balanced reasons. A small change here and there can make all the difference.
However, if your low mood is persistent or significantly impeding your day-to-day functioning, it’s probably time to seek some help, which is where counselling and psychotherapy come in. If you think this might help you, please feel free to get in touch.