As we approach the winter solstice, with shorter days and the nights drawing in from mid-afternoon, the season can affect our mood. If you’re suffering from the winter blues, there are some things you can do to improve your outlook.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), sometimes known as winter depression, is a type of depression that comes and goes with a seasonal pattern. It’s usually linked to the darker days of winter. Symptoms include feeling lethargic, sleeping for longer and craving carbohydrates. Even if you’re not affected by SAD, it’s common to experience these symptoms more during the colder months.
This year, winter is set to be even tougher. Lockdown and social distancing means some of the activities we’d usually do to lift our mood are no longer possible.
Creating a plan to improve your mood this winter can help you head into 2021 with a positive outlook even if lockdown persists. Be sure to include these areas in your plan.
1. Eat a healthy diet
Winter can lead to us reaching for unhealthy, stodgy food. While comforting, foods that are high in fat, carbs and sugar can leave us feeling worse once our blood sugar levels drop. They might provide an energy boost at first, but in the long run, they can lead to you feeling more tired and irritable.
Instead, make sure your meals and snacks include vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Picking food that’s packed with vitamins, minerals and proteins can restore energy levels for longer.
2. Make sure you get some sun
It might be cold but plan some time outdoors to increase sun exposure. Even ten minutes a day can help you feel better. It’s thought that exposure to sunlight increases the release of a hormone called serotonin, associated with feeling calmer and boosting your mood. A few minutes in the garden can give you a sunnier disposition.
Sun exposure is also linked to vitamin D. Low levels of vitamin D can leave you feeling tired, worsening the effect of the winter blues. Stepping outside and vitamin D-rich food, such as fatty fish, egg yolks, and some mushrooms, can help.
When you can’t get outdoors, one tech option is light therapy. These lights, which come in a variety of designs including desk lamps, give off a very bright light. It’s thought that by mimicking the sunlight, they can also encourage the production of serotonin and according to many users, they do work.
3. Boost endorphins with exercise
Getting your heart pumping releases the feel-good hormone endorphins. These hormones are linked to relieving stress and pain, and even produce a feeling of euphoria.
Making exercise part of your everyday routine throughout the winter months can help you beat the winter blues and ensure you stay healthy too. What’s not to like? Find an exercise that you enjoy doing, whether that’s going for a run, taking an online Zumba class or getting on a bike.
If you can get outdoors to exercise, even better!
4. Keep track of your sleep
Winter can mean we spend more time in bed, but are you getting a good night’s sleep? If you’re feeling tired and lethargic throughout the day, keeping track of your sleeping pattern can help.
Ideally, you should get around eight hours of sleep a night. If you struggle to fall asleep or are restless during the night, creating a routine that lets your body know it’s time to sleep can help. Switching off screens and doing something that helps you to relax before bed can mean you drift off quicker. You should also think about your bedroom and creating a space where you switch off and unwind.
5. Make time for friends and family
Planning time with family and friends has never been more important. With social distancing restrictions, the chances of bumping into someone or having a quick catch up while out are far lower. But social activities are essential for improving our mood.
So, proactively make time for those you enjoy spending time with. Heading to a park or other open space, in line with social distancing rules, or even planning a digital get together, might not be your usual routine but it can help you remain connected until things get back to normal.
6. Give meditation a try
A lot of anecdotal research this year has found that more people are feeling anxious and stressed. Many people are reporting they are anxious about the pandemic and fear another wave of Covid-19. With both health and economic concerns weighing on peoples’ mind, it’s not surprising that some may be feeling anxious about the future.
Trying relaxation and meditation exercises can help you focus and feel calmer. Even ten minutes in the morning can improve your mood for the rest of the day. There are plenty of different techniques and a proliferation of apps that can guide you. Give it a try and find one that suits you.
7. Plan indoor activities (within the bounds of COVID-19 restrictions)
When we’re stuck indoors, it’s easy to slump in front of the TV and binge watch a series. But, while fine at times, it’s a routine that can harm your mental health if you don’t mix it up with other activities.
Try planning days at home as you would plan for a day out. Think of activities that get your brain working and mean you step away from the screen for a while. From a good book to trying your hand at a new craft, there are plenty of options. If you want to get your family involved, board games and cards a great way to pass the time.
8. Go local
As an expat in Europe, you might to look at some of the ways people in northern Europe deal with these darker months. It is been widely written about how in Denmark the concept of hygge is embraced, to create warm, cosy and comfortable environments. In the Netherlands, they speak of the creation of similar gezellig feelings.
Or you could get that bracing feeling of Uitwaaien, the Dutch refreshing experience of taking a walk in the blustering wind, preferably at a beach.
Whatever you do, recognise your feelings, do what you can to stay healthy and know that the next season is spring!