Combat the winter blues

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From SAD lamps to simple self-care, Dorset Mind ambassador Lucy Lewis shares some tips for thriving during winter’s gloom

As the days get colder and darker, it is common to notice similar changes in our own mood and wellbeing – the decrease in daylight hours and the arrival of gloomier weather can have a significant impact on our mental health. It’s a phenomenon commonly referred to as the ‘winter blues’ or even Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in more significant cases. But there are some strategies that may help you to manage your mental health during the winter months when the weather becomes melancholy.

Make the most of the daylight
One of the primary reasons for winter blues is the reduced exposure to natural daylight. Lack of sunlight can disrupt our circadian rhythm and decrease the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in mood regulation. This can in turn lead to sleep issues, reduced energy and low mood. To combat this:
Open your curtains and blinds during the day to let in as much natural light as possible and try to sit near a window when you can
Maybe invest in a light therapy box, or ‘SAD lamp’, which mimics natural sunlight and can help improve your mood and energy levels
Spend time outdoors, even on cold and overcast days. Just a short walk during daylight hours can make a significant difference.

Maintain a consistent routine
The winter months can disrupt our daily routines – it feels easier to stay in bed longer, skip exercise and avoid social activities. However, maintaining a consistent routine can be a powerful tool to manage your mental health. To combat this:
Set a regular sleep schedule to ensure you’re getting enough rest.
Incorporate physical activity into your routine, even if it just means doing some indoor exercises
Make plans with friends or family to stay socially engaged, even if it’s just for a video chat.

Practise self-care
Self-care is essential all year round, but it becomes even more crucial during the winter when our mental health may be challenged.
Incorporate it into your daily routine:
Engage in activities that bring you joy – perhaps reading, painting or playing music.
Practise relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation or yoga.
Ensure you’re getting enough rest to recharge your mind and body.
Remember that self-care is not a waste of time; it is productive and important and can help you maintain both your physical and mental health.

Stay mindful of your diet
Comfort food becomes far more appealing during the winter months, but a poor diet can negatively affect your mental health. Opt for a balanced diet:

  • Include plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your meals.
  • Limit your consumption of caffeine and alcohol – they can exacerbate mood swings.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking enough water throughout the day.
  • Consider vitamin D supplements if you are not getting enough daylight (discuss with appropriate medical professional first).

Seek professional help
If you find that your winter blues are becoming overwhelming and affecting your daily life, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Talk to your GP if your feel that your daily functioning is being affected by your low mood.

Support for you:

  • Visit dorsetmind.uk for local mental health support and ways to keep mentally healthy
  • Call Samaritans on 116 123 for free 24/7 emotional support
  • Call Dorset’s mental health helpline Connection for support on NHS 111
  • Call 999 if someone is in immediate danger

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