Winter may have brought about the cool change we were wishing for in summer, but it can also bring unwanted feelings of dread, tiredness and depression.
For some people, these feelings can remain consistent throughout the colder months and become overwhelming – this is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD is a type of depression that is related to a change in seasons, and many people with SAD will experience symptoms from autumn right up until the warmer weather begins in spring.
Whether you have SAD, or the “winter blues” are getting you down, here are some things you can consider to help brighten your mood and improve your mental wellbeing during the chilly months.
Sunlight… and lack thereof
Sunlight is far more important than just providing light for the day’s work – sunlight, and lack thereof, has a significant effect on the body.
When we see sunlight, this triggers our body to produce a hormone called serotonin. This hormone is responsible for making us feel awake and focused, and it helps to boost our mood.
At darker times such as at night (or during the dark gloomy days of winter) our body produces another hormone called melatonin, which helps us to sleep.
Low levels of serotonin (and high levels of melatonin) can therefore have a negative effect on our mental health, making us feel tired and sluggish and worst of all; depressed.
Seeing sunlight isn’t the only trigger for our body to create serotonin, either.
Soaking up some rays allows us to produce vitamin D, and vitamin D is known to help release the serotonin hormone. A lack of vitamin D has been directly linked to depression, as with low levels of serotonin.
Additionally, vitamin D helps to regulate our immune system - so when we’re feeling physically well, this helps us to feel well mentally too.
So, what can I do?
It can be difficult to get outside during the winter months, particularly when it’s cold and rainy, but try to get some direct sunlight every day. Unfortunately artificial light won’t do the trick – no matter how bright it is!
During winter, 15-30 minutes of direct sunlight each day can help to boost vitamin D production in the body – but always check UV levels and make sure to wear sunscreen on particularly warm or sunny days.
You can also make an appointment with your doctor to check up on your vitamin D levels. Some doctors may recommend a vitamin D supplement to take during the winter months.
Colours and rainbows
Colour can have a major impact on our moods and feelings – the colours in our surroundings, the colours we wear and the colours used by others in our daily life can all have an effect on our mental health.
For example, colours be associated with different emotions: red can be associated with lover or anger, green is associated with harmony, blue can evoke a sense of security.
What does this have to do with winter? Well in winter, not only is it generally darker outside but we also tend to wear darker clothes. Blacks and greys are often associated with sadness, depression and morbid themes. Seeing and being surrounded by these dark colours can evoke negative feelings and can put you in a dull mood.
So, what can I do?
Try to implement some brighter colours in your life.
You may not be willing to paint your walls a pastel pink, but instead you can try wearing more colourful jumpers and scarves; rock a bright polka dot umbrella; or even use colourful post-it notes and highlighters on your work.
Using brighter colours can bring about optimistic feelings and emotions, and can help to trick our brain into a summery or positive mindset.
In winter you may find yourself reaching for those carb-loaded comfort foods – and that’s okay!
We’ve been conditioned to eat more in winter so we can gain weight to keep us warm in the cold weather.
Such food can also be comforting because it’s what our parents gave to us in the rainy winter weather as a child. This nostalgia can boost our mood and comfort us at a time when we need it most.
Unfortunately, many of these foods can be high in fat and calories, so it is good to keep this in mind.
So, what can I do?
Balance is key. It’s okay to reach for the French fries once in a while, but make sure you're eating a balanced, nutritious diet most of the time.
For example, a warm chicken soup with wholemeal toast works a treat. Or you can try mac and cheese using pumpkin in the sauce – a healthier option that doesn’t compromise on taste!
What if I’m suffering from SAD?
Depression of any sort, whether it’s SAD or otherwise, can take a bit more effort to conquer. But looking after your mental wellbeing and trying some of the suggestions above can still make a difference.
If you find that you’re feeling depressed for most of the day, have little energy, struggle to concentrate, and experience feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness – and these issues last for more than a period of two weeks – it is recommended that you seek a healthcare professional or visit your local doctor.
Counselling is the most common option for people experiencing depression, as well as practices such as meditation and mindfulness, but there are other things that can help too.
For severe depression, antidepressant medications may also be suggested, and for SAD, light therapy (also known as phototherapy) may be an option.
Light therapy uses light that mimics natural sunlight to trigger the creation of serotonin in the body, helping to lift your mood and alleviate SAD.
If you would like find out whether counselling would be a good option for you, please call us on (03) 9287 5555.