While January is a time for resolutions and collective inspiration and motivation, it can also be a time of low mood, especially after the festive season has ended. Today, I thought I’d write a bit about the winter blues because I was hit HARD this winter (mostly in December), unusually more than other years, but I’ve managed to dig myself out of the rut despite horrible weather and starting a locum job which has been severely limiting my daylight exposure. Obviously the lack of sunlight is the major factor in the winter blues (or SAD), but I think less social contact and failing to align your circadian rhythm also has an effect.
Here’s what has helped me:
- Use an SAD/vitamin D lamp. I bought this Dermfix 1000mx one a year ago, which is marketed to treat skin conditions with narrowband UVB 311nm, which also stimulates vitamin D production! Vitamin D is important for a whole host of issues including mood disorders/SAD and light is a superior way of obtaining it, though I have been AWFUL at using it because it is kind of fiddly having to hold a light over yourself for 15 minutes each day (a bigger standing lamp would fix that, and it’s on my shopping list!). I’ve been trying to be more strict on using it though, and have experienced a noticeable lift in mood. If you don’t have a special light, remember to supplement with liquid/tablet Vitamin D!.
- Get some Nature. After a few weeks of barely any nature exposure and generally feeling ‘meh’, I went outside into the garden, even though it was cloudy and cold, forced myself to stand in the grass barefoot and listened to the birds chirping. It was incredible what an instant lift it gave me. It’s so easy to forget about nature and just accept you won’t get any, but even in the bleakest of conditions nature has a powerful effect on mood and well-being. I’m trying to go outside in the garden and just BE, at least a few times a week. It’s also vital to get morning daylight exposure and reduce blue light exposure at night, for aligning your circadian rhythm, which has been shown to be strongly linked to mood. Read my favourite book on this subject, ‘Lights out’ for a better understanding of the importance of circadian rhythms.
- Eat healthy but allow yourself indulgences if you feel like it. I allow myself more treats in the winter time (also because when you’re settled on the couch to watch a nice movie, it’s infinitely better with dessert, and fattening up for the winter is just a great excuse). I don’t really fatten up though, because I make most of my treats and they’re always still free of gluten, grains and refined sugar. That way I can stay relatively healthy but let go enough to enjoy a bit of indulgence.
- Have a gratitude journal; I’m bad at doing this every day even though I know how great it is for mental well-being. I started doing it again a few days ago, and it really is powerful to think of what you’re grateful for each day before bed. While it’s always easy to include the big ones like friends, family, warmth, food, shelter etc, I try to find something specific to each day , no matter how small.
- See friends! Believe me, I KNOW how hard it is to drag yourself out of the house when its raining/snowing/freezing outside, but it’s important. Meet up somewhere warm or invite people to your house. Social contact is SO important, particularly when everything else seems kinda shit.
- Plan and look forward to things to do in the summer. I’m lucky to have a particularly amazing thing to look forward to – three months of travel around North and South America from February. Thinking about and planning the things I will do keeps me excited and is a nice mood boost but I also get pleasure thinking about other “normal” things in summer like festivals, picnics, long hikes, being in sunny nature, berry season, etc. While it is problematic to use anticipation of the future as a strategy of avoiding the present, you can still harness the psychological benefits as long as you are mindful about it.
I hope these tips help you out, and always remember; its OKAY to feel sad and down sometimes, and accepting this is often the most powerful way to handle the emotions and prevent them from taking over.