The good news about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or the good ole’ fashioned winter blues is that it is easily treatable. The bad news is that too many of us wait until March and the dawning of spring before we recognise that we have been suffering with it and should have done something about it sooner. Consequently, it will have affected our moods & emotional well being, impacted our personal & professional lives and left us feeling cheated from enjoying the last 3-4 months of our existence. So let’s get ahead of the game this year and set about doing something to minimise the winter blues!
Here are a few tips I’ve gathered from a variety of different sources including people I’ve studied & worked with, friends & family and my own personal experience. Real people trying to cope with a very real condition!
1. Turn the lights on. Does the only glow in the room come from the TV, your phone, or the computer screen? Not good. Light a candle, keep the curtains wide open until it becomes dark, and turn on extra lights in your home. Light therapy is an actual thing. You might like to consider buying a light box or asking someone to buy one for you as an early Christmas present. There are a few different ones to choose from and they can be surprisingly effective.
2. Exercise. I know it’s annoying to hear this as a suggestion, and you’d be forgiven if you stopped reading this blog now, but please stick with me! I think it’s fair to say that everyone already knows that exercise is generally helpful; whether we like hearing it is another thing! But even doing just 10 minutes of exercise changes your brain chemistry and can boost your mood and can be done at home. Run up the stairs, dance to your favourite song in the kitchen, bend down to close the dishwasher door instead of flipping it up with your foot, and vacuum with your earphones to speed up the household chores. So much can be done without donning the Lycra and paying for a gym membership.
3. Colour up your life. Colours can carry an unexpected but strong impact on appetite, mood, ability to focus, a person’s sense of calm, etc. Typical fast food & take away chains use reds & yellows to whet your appetite whereas travel companies use white & blue to calm, relax and entice you. If you’re a DIY fan consider bringing more colour into your home. If, like me, you’re not then this might call for a bit more creativity, but can still be achieved with throws & cushions, photos & prints, and a revamp of the wardrobe. A good hunt through your local charity shops will ensure you don’t break the bank prior to Christmas. And don’t forget the little changes we can make. I use a brightly coloured mug each morning for my first cup of tea, which somehow wouldn’t taste half as good if I used another. (Believe me, I’ve tried it!) The approach I’m suggesting is called ‘mood-induction therapy’ and there are numerous ways that you can use it. The best thing is, you will know what works for you.
4. Get chatty. Did you know that it’s been clinically proven that talking to people can lift your moods? Simple isn’t it! And, if in person, it’s literally staring us in the face! However, making that first move to engage in conversation isn’t always as simple. In fact, it can be the hardest thing to do at a time when we need it the most. So … think about a ‘stitch in time’ approach. Start thinking now of changing your communication patterns. Be the first to reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Maybe just by text to enquire how they are. This might initiate a phone call and a subsequent meet up. The message is twofold; you don’t know if it works until you’ve tried, and the other person could be suffering and waiting to connect with someone too. Either way, it’s a win-win situation. A couple of years ago a group of university students who were suffering with stress and becoming isolated were challenged to make 10 human connections a day for a week. Their individual moods were measured pre & post the exercise. The results were amazing! Every student reported ‘feeling better’ as a result and this was evidenced in the data recorded. Maybe ‘10 chats a day could help keep the winter blues away’ for you?
5. Whilst on Mantras …. We can also look at our Diets. Again, unless we’ve been living in a cave, we should know to eat a balanced diet aiming for the magic 5 a day of fruit and veg. In addition, vitamin D and melatonin supplements can impact mood. Both are thought to improve circadian realignment (a major factor in SAD). Without getting too theoretical, let me briefly explain that your circadian rhythm is basically a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. It’s also known as your sleep/wake cycle. Keeping this balanced is important for your moods at any time of the year. In addition, be aware of your intake of carbs. Craving them can be a symptom of SAD, but before you give in to the cravings remember that eating carbs is only a shortcut strategy for boosting mood. For they can cause your sugar levels to spike and crash, which will also affect your mood. I’m reminded here of the wise words of my grandmother … “A little bit of what you fancy is good, but keep it in moderation.”
6. See a therapist in the winter. Please believe me when I say that I am not touting for business! If the winter is extra rough for you for whatever reason, get a little extra support. Fellow therapists have reported an increase in demand from clients who know that they are not at their best emotionally in winter and check in for some ‘top up’ sessions. After all, we wouldn’t think twice at having a flu jab if we were classed as vulnerable enough to qualify so why not pay the same attention to our emotional well being?
7. Take a walk. Even if it’s not sunny outside, you’ll get more light than being inside, and light is one of the biggest factors in the winter blues. Walk with others and you could tick off points 1, 2, and 4 in this list. Wear a brightly coloured scarf, hat & gloves and take a healthy packed lunch and that covers points 3 & 5 too!
8. Plan something! If money were no object the ideal solution to escape the winter blues would be to ditch reading this and jet off to a sunny climate. Back in the real world and for most of us that isn’t possible for a myriad of reasons. So what can we do instead? I’ve found that there are 2 distinct camps on the subject of ‘planning’. Some love it, enjoying the anticipation of the event, the event itself, and then reliving it afterwards. Some however, hate it. They resist planning with all their might! They pride themselves on ‘never making plans’ and laugh & even mock those who do. (You will know which camp you sit in!) Now here’s the thing … even for those who hate planning there’s something about the act itself that gives us a buzz when we plan. Whether you’re planning a surprise for someone you love, or planning a well-deserved treat for yourself, it releases a sense of excited anticipation. And remember, if you plan nothing, nothing will happen!
On that note, it feels appropriate to end this blog. I wish you an emotionally happy winter and would love to hear how you battle the winter blues. After all, winter will return again next year and it would be good to share with my readers what worked for you.