Many of us feel lethargic and ‘down’ in winter, even towards the end of the season. The days are still short with gloomy mornings and darker evenings, and if you are getting out and exercising less, this can also contribute to a low mood. About 2 million people in the UK are thought to have the ‘winter blues’, a form of depression characterised by low mood, fluctuations in appetite and heavy sleeping during the winter months.
If the short, dark days are getting you down, what can you do to feel like yourself again? Here are some steps to break out of your winter hibernation and help yourself start feeling better. But keep in mind, different things work for different people at different times. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself to try everything on this list and instead just try one or two.
Although it can be tempting to be wrapped up on the sofa watching your favourite television show, this can be a recipe for social isolation. Humans are social creatures and socialising plays a huge role in our health and wellbeing.
Spending time with friends and loved ones can boost your mood and helps you to stay active and fight off feelings of loneliness. Try to keep in touch with people you care about and accept any invitations you get to social events, even if you only go for a little while. Or if you feel you are lacking positive relationships, try meeting new people by volunteering or joining a class or group.
Being indoors more often means an increase in screen time. And if this time is spent mindlessly consuming a non-stop news cycle, you may feel an increase in the winter blues. You might think feeling informed can seem like a good way to control what’s happening around us; but being overwhelmed by bad news actually creates more anxiety and fear.
This is called doomscrolling, and there is no real benefit as it can increase anxiety and create paranoia about the world around you.
To help minimise stress and sadness from the news, try to restrict the amount of time you spend in front of a screen by setting a time limit to only 20 minutes of scrolling. You could also instead watch something funny, look at photos or read a story about something good in the world. The Happy Broadcast is a good place to start if you’re looking for news from around the world that is good for your mental health.
During winter, getting outside can seem a lot less appealing, but making outdoor time a priority could make a big difference to your mental health and wellbeing. Being outside regularly not only gets your body moving, but it also helps to reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. Sitting outside during your lunch break or making a walk part of your daily routine is a good place to start, or you can try a longer walking route on the weekend. Remember that each activity is like a little boost and can be preventative, so don’t wait until you’re feeling low to get out and get active.
While you’re out, it’s also a great idea to be more aware of your surroundings. Feel the cold, listen to the sound of birds, or feel the fresh air as you breathe in and out. This mindful approach shifts our attention and thoughts from inside us to outside us, from what might happen to what is happening right now.
Practicing gratitude can be a game-changer. When you’re going through a tough time it can be hard to remember to be grateful for the good in your life. This is because we tend to notice what is bad before we notice the good, so by regularly practicing gratitude we can train our brains away from that negative bias.
You don’t need to think of a bunch of significant things; you can be grateful for the smallest things such as the sunshine in the morning, your morning coffee or a great book you’re enjoying.
One way you can practice gratitude is by writing down 3 things you feel grateful for each day in a journal so you can look back when you’re feeling low. Research by psychologist Robert Emmons shows that simply keeping a gratitude journal can significantly increase life satisfaction. Or you could also share with a family member or friend at the end of the day to end it on a positive note. Each of these small moments of gratitude over time will strengthen your ability to notice the good.
Make a point of looking forward to things that you enjoy or are excited about. Looking forward to and then taking part in the activity gives us a sense of satisfaction and pleasure.
Think of friends you want to see, a concert or restaurant you want to go to, or a trip you’d like to take. If possible, book or schedule these things in so that you have a date to look forward to.
If you consider your low mood to have persisted for too long and affects your daily life, you may want to consider making an appointment to speak to a doctor. You can see any of our GPs about whatever is troubling you, whether that is physical or mental. If required, they will also be able to refer you to see a psychiatrist or psychologist.