But there are things you can do to boost your mental health these last months of winter and stay on top of the winter blues.
Studies have shown that exercise is one of the most effective ways to fortify your mental health. You don’t necessarily need to start doing 100 push ups every day, as low impact exercise such as yoga or a brisk walk a couple of times a week is all you need to feel the benefits.
Switch up your diet
It’s not uncommon to want to eat more over the colder months or if you’re feeling blue. And although chocolate, crisps and alcohol may be comforting, healthier alternatives may help your brain.
Oily fish such as salmon, trout and tuna are great sources of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids – both of which help your body produce serotonin. Leafy greens like spinach and broccoli are rich in folate which helps your brain produce dopamine, a chemical responsible for motivation, memory and pleasure.
It’s a great time to try out new recipes, so you can wow people with your new culinary skills when we can entertain people in our homes again.
Lend a hand
Helping others is a well-documented way to improve how you’re feeling. Just a couple of hours each week helping in your community can improve how you are feeling about the world around you.
With so many people needing support during this difficult time, a simple shopping run for a neighbour might help you just as much as you’ll help them.
What if it’s more than just “the winter blues”?
Many people struggle with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) over the colder months. SAD is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, and symptoms can include persistent low mood, irritability, feeling guilty or worthless, lethargy and fatigue, excessive sleepiness and napping, eating more, and loss of enjoyment in everyday activities.
The jury’s out on what actually causes SAD, but it’s probably linked to the lack of sunlight over the colder months. The prevailing theory is that the lack of sunlight affects the part of your brain responsible for sleep, sex drive, mood, energy and appetite, as well as regulating your body’s internal clock.
Increased levels of melatonin (which makes you sleepy) coupled with a lack of serotonin (which affects your mood and appetite) creates the perfect SAD storm.
Shed some light on the issue
Light therapy is one of the most common ways people treat SAD. These lamps are designed to trick your brain into releasing serotonin (sometimes called the ‘happy hormone’) by mimicking natural sunlight. They’re most effective in the morning, to boost your mood and energy levels – especially on those days when you don’t want to get out of bed!
Sunrise alarm clocks can also help you regulate your body clock. Similar to SAD lamps, they mimic natural light and get brighter over the course of half an hour or so. Some of them even include nature sounds to help you start your day more peacefully than your phone alarm in a pitch-black room.
Opening your curtains to allow as much natural light in is a cheaper alternative, but possibly less effective than dedicated light sources – especially when the days are shorter.
Talk to a professional
And while symptoms you’re experiencing might sound like SAD, there could be several causes. So, it’s best to talk to your GP if you’re worried about your mental health or just feeling a bit “off”.
They are best placed to help you get on top of how you are feeling and may recommend further professional interventions such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy. You might be surprised by how much better you feel by simply telling someone about it.
We’re here to help
If you’re struggling with your physical or mental health, need an extra pair of hands because you're shielding or you just want someone to talk to, we’re here for you.