Winter is Coming…
Scratch that, it’s already here…. (without Jon Snow, The Dragon Queen or any White Walkers, for those of you that caught my Game of Thrones nod). I feel like over the last week it’s almost constantly rained (good for the farmers and the environment, I know), the temperature has dropped more degrees than I care for, and the sun seems to pop out only sporadically. With this shift in our day to day experience and the shorter, darker days of winter, many of us experience a negative impact on our mood.
Research and personal experience has shown this impact can vary greatly, ranging from a mild loss of motivation and energy, and/or feeling a little flat or sad, to feeling quite irritable, unmotivated and sad. At this more ‘intense’ end people can feel tired and lethargic, have difficulty concentrating, sleep more than normal, lack energy, decrease their activity levels, withdraw from social situations, crave carbohydrates and sugars, and even gain weight due to overeating. At this end of the spectrum, with clinically recognisable symptoms, one might be told they are experiencing what we call ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’ or SAD. Now, while this is a handy way of both labelling and describing such an experience, I should point out, seasonal affective disorder or SAD is not considered a unique diagnostic entity. Rather, it is a type of recurrent major depression with a seasonal pattern.
This “seasonal pattern” is reasonably common during the shorter, darker days of winter, impacting those us of who live a good distance from the equator (where closer locations’ sunlight, day’s length and temperature all stay fairly consistent), and a mild dip in energy and mood are probably not too much to worry about (though have a look at the tips below). However, if the more “intense” symptoms listed above are sounding like something you’re experiencing, it might be worth chatting with you General Practitioner or a psychologist.
As you may have gleaned by now, sunlight plays a pretty critical role in the shift in mood that can occur at this time of year. Without going into the rather complex explanation of the role sunlight plays in the brains making of serotonin (neuro-transmitter believed to be responsible for balancing mood) and melatonin (hormone responsible for causing sleepiness), suffice to say simply that sunlight does indeed play a critical role and with a significant seasonal reduction in it, serotonin activity can decrease and melatonin production can increase, which messes with our mood a little. Furthermore, with less outdoor exposure to sunlight on the skin in winter, people may produce less Vitamin D, which is believed to play a role in serotonin activity (and Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency has been associated with clinically significant depressive symptoms).
So, what can we do to improve our mood in the depths of a dark winter, and perhaps even help prevent anything more than a mild case of the “winter blues”?
4 tips to manage your Winter Blues
- Look after your Vitamin D:
Even though it may seem less inviting, it is still really important to get outside regularly for a walk or some form of movement in the fresh air. This will also provide you with greater opportunity to get in some of the Vitamin D and hopefully give your mood a boost. It may also be worth getting your vitamin D levels checked when you next have a blood test and see if they could use a supplemental boost beyond that of the sun’s rays.
- Keep the good food coming:
Pay extra attention to your overall nutrition, as what we put into our bodies has a big impact on our mood. Often in the colder, darker months we want to indulge in more than our fair share of warming, comforting, indulgent food, or perhaps we just don’t feel like preparing more nutritious meals, but ensuring you get in a good dose of veggies, fruits, minimally processed carbohydrates and a good source of protein will help your body get the fuel it needs to keep your mind in a happy space.
- Don’t become stagnant:
Be conscious of the changes you make in your behaviour and activity levels. Admittedly the idea of hitting the gym when I have to battle the cold and rain doesn’t fill me with motivation, but trying to maintain the activity levels that support your happiness in summer will help your happiness in winter too! Now I don’t expect you to be engaging in beach walks or even walking to work when the weather doesn’t really allow, but just take note of changes and drops in your activity and try and compensate by adding it in some other way. This might look like having a quick walk when the sun does pop out, trying some exercise at home, indoors (and there are a heap of resources online to support you with this), or even just trying to maintain your normal schedule, such as getting up and out of bed when you normally would, and not staying under the warm covers for an extra hour (or two) on the weekend as this can really throw you out.
- Winter may be dark, but our thoughts don’t need to be:
The last suggestion would be to remain mindful of how your mind starts talking to you in winter! What thoughts and beliefs might be swirling around in there that are negatively impacting your behaviour or your mood? If you find yourself thinking “winter is so depressing” or just noticing a general changing trend in how you think (and not for the better) during this season, then just take a moment or two to pause and see if you might be able to re-frame those beliefs. Or perhaps you could try acknowledging them and allow some more positive thoughts and/or behaviours to exist alongside these thoughts…winter may indeed seem a little depressing, but it also means appreciating a curl up under a doona with a hot chocolate, and settling in for the next episode of Game of Thrones (without feeling like you’re ‘wasting’ a nice day outside)!
If any of the information above has you concerned about your mood, or you would like to chat to one of Attuned psychologist’s about boosting your wellbeing, please feel free to contact us here or contact our friendly admin staff at 8361 7008.
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