If you’re feeling a little low, you could be suffering from “the winter blues”. There’s scientific evidence to support the idea that the season can affect our moods. And it’s thought to be related to the way the body responds to daylight.
Medically known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, the winter blues tends to start in the autumn and can continue through the winter months, sapping your energy and affecting your mood. But the good news is, there are some simple things you can do to help boost your mood. So why not give these a try?
1. Just smile
Of course, we smile when we’re happy. But did you know that smiling can actually make you feel happy? When you smile it triggers mood-boosting hormones in the brain. And even if you don’t feel particularly happy, smiling can also trick the brain into thinking that you are – it’s called “facial feedback”. So put a smile on your face and you may start to feel more positive. And as smiling is infectious, you could boost the moods of those around you too.
2. Get out more
The main cause of the winter blues is lack of daylight, so spending more time outside can help boost your mood. One study suggests that spending just 20 minutes in the open air gives your brain an energy boost comparable to one cup of coffee. Fresh air and the sounds and sights of nature can help reduce stress and anxiety and boost your immune system. And getting your daily dose of vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, prevents osteoporosis, and reduces inflammation, among other things. Even just sitting by a window can help if you’re unable to get outside.
3. Talk to someone
It doesn’t matter whether you meet up face to face, have a video call, or chat on the phone, connecting with friends and family can help lift your spirits and make you smile. It promotes a sense of safety, belonging and security, and it can offer a good distraction from any stresses you may have. Talking about your feelings can also do wonders for your mental health, and help you deal with times when you feel troubled.
4. Eat well
What we eat doesn’t just affect our physical health. It can affect our mental health and wellbeing too. Unhealthy snacks can be tempting, but your body and mind will thank you for eating at least one healthy meal with fruit and vegetables each day. Our gut can reflect how we’re feeling, and if we’re stressed, it can speed up or slow down. Eating more healthy foods including fruit, vegetables, beans and probiotics can help keep our gut in good health. And a Mediterranean-style diet with lots of vegetables, seafood, garlic, olive oil and grains can help reduce the symptoms of depression too.
5. Try meditation
It’s thought that we all have a baseline happiness level. Of course some events will fill us with joy, and others with sadness. Though studies indicate that most people “revert back to some kind of baseline happiness level” following an event. The good news is, that with practice, people can elevate their baseline happiness level. And this can be done in just a few minutes per day with meditation. Regularly practising meditation, even for just a short period of time, can produce a deep state of relaxation and a tranquil mind. It allows you to focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress. But it isn’t all about sitting in a dark room for 20 minutes with nice meditation music playing.
Learn more about daily meditation and how you might already be doing it.
6. Listen to music
It’s a well known fact that music can reduce anxiety and make you feel happy. And it can help improve your attention span and enhance your memory too. Music releases a chemical in your brain called dopamine, which improves your mood, and it can also help in the production of the stress-reducing hormone cortisol. Music also boosts your immune system and can create positive emotional experiences — it can even help relieve pain. Relaxing music can lower high blood pressure and can help people suffering from migraines and chronic headaches; listening to classical music before bedtime can even reduce sleeping problems. So put your favourite album on and enjoy the many health benefits associated with listening to music.
7. Get active
Exercise is great for both mind and body. Just 30 minutes of vigorous exercise three times a week is effective against depression. And exercising outdoors will have double the benefit. Though light exercise can also work wonders. A one-hour walk after lunch is an effective way to beat the winter blues. Or rambling groups organise plenty of local walks if you want to enjoy some low-impact exercise with others. But did you know just exercising for 5 minutes a day can have some amazing benefits?
8. Declutter your space
We can sometimes feel a little overwhelmed when we’re surrounded by “stuff”. Mess can cause stress, which is why many people enjoy decluttering as it gives them a sense of control and accomplishment. Some people like to clear out the junk to free up space for new things. And others may want to downsize. Decluttering is all about making space in your home for the things that matter. So make some time, even if it’s only for 5 minutes each day to tidy your environment – your mind will thank you.
9. Get more sleep
Most people need around 8 hours of sleep a night to repair and renew their bodies. But in reality, very few of us are actually getting enough sleep. There’s lots of research supporting the health benefits of adequate sleep. And sleep deprivation raises a person’s risk of a multitude of health complications, increasing our chances of everything from diabetes to heart disease and cancer. But also, being tired makes us cranky. So make sure you’re getting enough sleep if you want to wake up feeling refreshed and energised! Or why not have a power nap if you’re struggling to sleep at night?
If you’re finding it hard to drift off at night, read our article on how to beat insomnia and get a good night’s sleep.
Everyone has some days where they might feel a little down, and that’s totally normal. But if you’re feeling like this for several days at a time, and you can’t find the motivation to do activities you normally enjoy, then you should seek advice from a healthcare professional.