Bye-bye winter blues…
17th November 2020
The dark days and dank weather can leave us in need of a mood boost. Harriet Cooper talks to the experts about how to avoid the seasonal slump
The alarm clock goes off, it’s pitch black outside and freezing; the very last thing you want to do is drag yourself out from under your duvet and face the world. You’re feeling unmotivated, lethargic and dispirited. Welcome to the ‘winter blues’.
“‘Winter blues’ is a psychological state where we might start to feel more gloomy and begin to lose perspective on our life, forgetting to be consciously aware of the things we can look forward to,” explains consultant clinical psychologist Dr Hanne Homer.
“These feelings are due to lower levels of natural sunlight around us, which can lead to a drop in serotonin levels – a mood regulating neurotransmitter in our brains – and alterations in melatonin, which is a hormone associated with mood and sleep.”
The unprecedented events of this year certainly don’t help. With Covid-19 sweeping across the nation, leaving anxiety, loneliness and general misery in its wake, any negative feelings are bound to be more acute than ever.
“The pandemic will have an effect on how people cope with winter,” says life coach and positive psychology practitioner Sam James. “Many are experiencing emotional strain as a result of the past few months and their resilience is compromised. Secondly, whereas people have been able to spend time outdoors throughout the summer, as a way of connecting with others, it will get more challenging in the colder months, exacerbating any feelings of isolation.”
It is important, at this stage, to differentiate between the ‘winter blues’ and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), the latter a recurrent seasonal depression that typically starts in the autumn and tends to lift spontaneously, if left untreated, in the early spring.
“Most of us suffer with the odd day of ‘winter blues’,” says Dr David Ince of The Burnhams Surgery. “What is abnormal, and needs attention, is when this feeling becomes a pervasive mood that inhibits our ability either to get on with life or to enjoy those activities that we normally do. If it begins to affect all parts of your life then it may be SAD.”
Symptoms of SAD can include loss of concentration, disrupted sleep patterns, feeling sad/tearful/low/guilty/helpless, appetite changes, losing interest in physical or social contact and, at worst, suicidal feelings. As Dr Ince explains, “this can be purely related to the season or a worsening of an existing mental health problem in the winter months. The most important thing is not to ignore these symptoms – if you are concerned, speak to a GP, pharmacist or practice nurse.”
The good news is that there are things we can do to help us combat the winter slump. Taking exercise is right up there, especially outdoors to maximise natural sunlight exposure and boost serotonin levels. Indeed, studies have shown that one hour of aerobic exercise outside (even with cloudy skies) has the equivalent benefits of two and half hours of light treatment indoors.
That said, artificial light therapy is a well-established, evidence-based treatment for SAD and professional light boxes can be purchased for use in the home. According to Dr Ince: “To be effective you need to ensure that you get the correct intensity (10,000 lux at distance of 20 inches), duration (daily for 20 to 30 minutes according to manufacturer’s guidance) and timing (for most people shortly after waking in the morning).”
Eating healthily, maintaining a regular sleep routine, connecting with others and even learning a skill can help. “Research indicates that when people spend time in more active, engaged pursuits they report a higher sense of wellbeing and more positive moods,” explains Sam. “Maybe this is learning something new or getting creative and crafty?”
Hanne suggests we can also help ourselves through mindfulness. “Moods do change – they are not permanent. We can learn to sit with the more negative moods and gain some mastery over them – mindfulness practice is particularly useful for this purpose.”
Sam agrees. “How we think about the winter months influences how we experience them. Shift your perspective from winter being something to endure, to something to embrace. Focus on the positive aspects. Is it the slow-cooked foods, reading snuggled under a blanket or the bracing walks wrapped up in hats and scarves? Welcome the slower pace that winter has to offer.”
Dr David Ince, www.theburnhamssurgery.co.uk
Sam James Coaching, 07736 325189, www.samjamescoaching.co.uk
The blues banishers
If you only do one thing to lift your flagging spirits…
… do some exercise
Switch it up – whether that be cold water swimming or hitting the outdoor gym. If you don’t fancy leaving home, join Body Control Pilates teachers Hannah Nicol (pictured) and Gary Newstead, of The Old Stables Pilates Studio in Brancaster, for their online classes. £20 per month.
07788 134218, www.oldstablespilates.co.uk
… give your skin some love
Skincare therapist Olga Brennand, who practices in Harley Street but also offers consultations in Southrepps, advises us to invest in botanicals. “Rosehip oil hydrates, gives an antioxidant boost and regenerates cells. I use it in my Skin Firming Treatment for glowing skin.” Facials from £50.
07832 571094, www.olgabrennand.com
… get your vitamins
North Norfolk-based Susie Brient runs Susie Who, offering unique juice programmes to supercharge the body with nutrients and vitamins. After an initial consultation, Susie will tailor-make a juice regime (one-, three- or five-day), with all the juices created to order. From £40.
… practise a pirouette
Royal Ballet-trained Karis Scarlette’s four-day retreats at Weybourne Wellness, with participants staying at The Pheasant Hotel in Kelling, combine classical ballet classes, meditation, stretching sessions, repertoire workshops, breathwork and 1:1 coaching. Prices from £965.
Visit Karis’ website for future dates and whilst you’re there, check out her online classes via Zoom. www.karisscarlette.com
… try nothing
Doing absolutely nothing is good for us – in fact, it’s a popular wellness practice the Dutch call niksen. According to Olga Mecking, author of Niksen (Piatkus, £12.99, available to order from The Holt Bookshop firstname.lastname@example.org), doing something without a purpose can lower stress levels and boost brainpower. What’s not to love?