Managing the 'winter blues'
For some people the colder weather in winter is not the problem, it is the change in how they feel and cope. They might feel lethargic, have an increased appetite, lose interest in activities, or perhaps feel increasingly flat and/or irritable. To what degree this happens can vary, and for some, where these symptoms are quite disabling, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) might be the reason (although one study suggests that in Australia incidence on SAD only said to be .3%). But for many of us the decrease in sunlight can just make us feel a bit off. But why?
The brain responds to darkness by secreting melatonin (a hormone produced in the brain) which regulates our daily biorhythms (internal body clock), including the sleep/wake cycle. This means that when you don’t get as much sun your body can respond by slowing down – just as it does at night (that’s why bears hibernate in winter). So, add this to our desire to stay warm and dry in winter, the temptation to eat heavy comfort foods and exercise less, and winter can be a tricky time.
Some things that can help to beat the winter blues:
- Get some sunlight. Try to maximise your exposure to light, but particularly in the early morning. An hour a day of sun is said to make a huge difference to how you feel.
- Make the space you live and work in more light – either naturally, or where that is not possible, with fluorescent lights.
- Have lunchbreaks in the park near your office.
- Meet friends for a cuppa in a naturally lit café.
- Get out in the garden.
- Go for walks in the sun.
- Eat well and keep active. When it’s cold and dark it can be tempting to eat heavier foods and wind down the exercise, but in fact this can add to our winter blues. Eating a variety of foods and keeping active, at least 30 minutes of exercise 3 times a week, helps to keep your body healthy, both physically and mentally.
- Make sure you have plans for social events/outings. Being alone can add to your sense of isolation so don’t give up your social activities, maybe just find times and places that make catching up that little bit easier in the midst of winter.
- Plan something to look forward to. It might be a holiday in the sun, a weekend away with mates, or perhaps a purchase of some new hobby materials that you have been thinking about.
- Get some sleep, but not too much. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep, go to bed and get up at regular times, and have the occasional naps, but nothing more than 30mins. While it can be tempting to stay in bed, too much sleep can also make you feel more tired. So, you need to find the balance that is right for you.
- Lend a helping hand. Winter can be a tough time for those in difficult living situations, particularly people who are homeless. Maybe consider helping out by volunteering at a soup kitchen or donating some of your old blankets to charity (http://www.givenow.com.au/otherways/blankets). Keeping others in mind can help us feel more connected with the community around us.
Keeping active, social and looking after your body may help to combat the winter blues. And if you have tried all this, but still feel low, have a chat with your doctor.
This article is based on information from:
Do you have your own tips?
Songs for getting through the blues
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