25 Oct

Winter Blues

Clocks Going Back – Does Winter Affect Your Mood?

At this time of year if I don’t prepare myself I can be susceptible to the winter blues. I might feel ok till January but then I will feel tired and feel like hiding under the duvet till the snow drops appear in the Spring.

10 years back, I recognised this and invested in a lightbox. It transformed my winter mood. The winters I forgot about my light box same thing happened when January hit. I would think what is wrong with me, figure it out, start using the light box and energy lifted, was less sleepy and mood improved.

I have never been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). NHS website describes it here.  However, I do know my mood and energy levels dip as the days and nights start to get darker.

How I use my light box?

Switch it on first thing in the morning when I waken. You can buy alarm clocks that have this function built in. I put the TV on and watch 15 minutes of breakfast TV with light on. I then use the light again when I am getting myself ready, drying my hair and or putting on my make-up. A total of about 20-30 minutes daily.

A small study in 2009 saw that people who had depression who were exposed to bright light for 20, 40 and 60 minutes a day for several weeks experienced a drop in their depression symptoms. There was no difference between the improvement in 40 and 60 minutes. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2913518/

Last winter I had a great winter as far as mood and energy levels were concerned. I made a big effort to get outside more especially when it was sunny. Early morning light in particular can be helpful as it acts similarly to the lightbox. I also started using the box from September. 

Nutrition

Seasonal eating is something else I have embraced and having a local farm deliver their fresh fruit and vegetables makes that a whole lot easier. When it gets cold I stop eating salads. This time of year, the box contains parsnips, beetroot, butternut squash, carrots and Jerusalem artichokes. These are great for adding to hearty, comforting meat and or vegetable casseroles.

I keep saying it but keeping protein levels up are really important for mood. In College a wise lecturer told us that protein was a grounding food. And it so is. We make brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, some you will have heard off ;

  • Serotonin is needed for mood, sleep and appetite
  • Dopamine gives us our get and go
  • GABA keeps us cool, calm and collective
  • Acetylcholine is involved in memory and movement. 

To make these chemicals that are so important for our brain and mood we need to eat protein. Include protein at every meal. 

Fats

A function of fat is to keep us warm, another is to support our brain and mood again.  Oily fish such as salmon, tout, mackerel, anchovies and herring contain the essential fatty omega 3 and within omega 3 there are two fatty acids called EPA and DHA. Studies have shown EPA has a protective affect against depression. 

Activity 

Move more. Exercise has been found in research to improve mood when you have the winter blues, in fact it improves mood at any time of year. Walk outside in the light and fresh air, swim, yoga, gentle stretching, Pilates, gym workouts, cycling, Park runs are all some suggestions. In January last year I took up weight training this also contributed to me avoiding my winter blues. It was a form of activity and I was learning something new, which brings me on to the next tip.

Take up a new hobby

Dark evening and mornings don’t mean you can’t do anything. You can find time to invest in yourself and start a new skill. Or go back to an old one. Did you used to do something before life got busy; art, knitting, sewing, singing, learning a language or colouring in – take it up again.

Journalling

This has shown to be helpful to support mood. It is something I have dabbled in a bit recently and I have found it useful. It can help if you are struggling with sleep, dumping thoughts, feeling, things to do before bed means your brain will switch off when you are asleep. 

Rest

This is as important as activity. We are designed in the colder months to hibernate. Take it easy. Allow yourself to read, have a hot bath, have relaxing cuppas with friends and family or a day binge watching Friends!

These are tips from my work and personal experience. If you feel you are struggling with mental health speak to your GP or someone close.