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Overcoming the winter blues

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Sarah Powell
By Sarah Powell, Quality and Equality Manager Link to Sarah Powell's LinkedIn profile

With these short dark days, you may well be experiencing a touch of the ‘winter blues’. Coupled with Covid, that can be a lot to handle!

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons. For many people however, these symptoms can be severe and have a significant impact on their day-to-day activities resulting in the need to seek medical advice.

According to a recent MIND survey two thirds of young people are experiencing a decline in mental health, with figures worsening across the spectrum.

Most scientists believe that the problem is related to the way the body responds to daylight. Alison Kerry, from the mental health charity MIND, says:

With SAD, one theory is that light entering the eye causes changes in hormone levels in the body. In our bodies, light functions to stop the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, making us wake up.

It’s thought that SAD sufferers are affected by shorter daylight hours in the winter. They produce higher melatonin, causing lethargy and symptoms of depression.

So what can we do to make ourselves feel better?

One simple tip is to get more light into your life - by getting outside as often as you can or trying to sit by a window when you are working.

British Physician and author, Dr Rangan Chatterjee, is an advocate of a 360° approach to health. He focuses on 4 main pillars:

Food - Winter blues can make you crave sugary foods and carbohydrates such as chocolate, pasta and bread. This is fine in moderation, for comfort, but don’t forget to include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet. It can be all too easy to reach for the unhealthy treats whilst working from home. Try and ensure that you have plenty of healthy snacks to hand and limit the amount of ‘bad’ food in the house.

Movement - The charity Mind says research has shown that a one-hour walk in the middle of the day is an effective way to beat the winter blues. Evidence suggests that 30 minutes of exercise three times a week is effective against depression. So how about taking your morning coffee in the garden (wrapped up of course!). If you have a tendency towards SAD, outdoor exercise will have a double benefit, because you’ll gain some daylight.

Sleep - Most adults need 6 - 8 hours a night and although the winter blues can make you feel fatigued it’s important to keep to a good routine. Make sure you are tired when you go to bed and keep away from screens, caffeine and alcohol for at least an hour prior.

Relaxation - Make time for enjoyment and relaxation, whether it’s watching the latest box-set or having a nice relaxing bath. Try to find something to give yourself a good belly-laugh. Reach out to family, friends and work colleagues share a virtual coffee or go for a walk. Don’t expect too much of yourself, try to look for a positive every day.

We know it’s a difficult time for everyone, for more articles on well-being please view our other well-being blogs or listen to our recent webinar with former SHOUT volunteer who now works as a Kaplan tutor.