Sophie Bostock, PhD
Banish the Winter Blues!
Updated: Dec 17, 2020
At this time of year, as the days get shorter and it gets colder outside, at least 1 in 5 of us experience a triad of symptoms which are commonly known as the Winter Blues.
When this happens..
our energy can fade,
our normally upbeat mood sags, or we’re prone to mood swings
our usual laser focus is easily distracted by thoughts of comfort food, a warm duvet, and inactivity, a combination which can result in weight gain.
Slowing down occasionally is probably no bad thing, but if this lack of energy gets in the way of work, or family responsibilities, it’s time to take action.
This video outlines 5 key strategies for getting your energy levels back on track, to Beat the Blues...
#1: Get out of bed at the same time, as often as you can
Your internal body clocks thrive on routine. (I know I've said this before, but it's just as true in the winter months!) When you have haphazard sleep and wake times the brain has no idea what’s going to happen next. With no pattern, your hormones go on strike, so you feel sluggish for the first few hours of the day, and come nightfall, you struggle to get to sleep.
So, simply waking up at the same time, CAN give you more energy. If you’re a shift worker, and you CAN’T wake up at the same time each day, fear not, you can still help your body clocks to adjust more quickly to changes in routine...
#2: Get a generous dose of bright light to start your day
We have a master body clock in the brain which responds to bright light. The problem in winter is that there is much less intense light around. If you stay indoors all day, your eyes can only rely on electric light, which is feeble in comparison to natural daylight. So, if you’re working from home, try and get outside for 10 minutes before you start work, and if possible, move your desk next to a window - it really does make a difference.
For a more intense mood boster, try a SAD lamp which emits 10,000 lux - equivalent to the intensity of light you might expect outside on a balmy summer’s day. Sitting by one of these for 30 minutes every morning can help to kick start your master body clock, so you will feel more alert, and it can improve your morning mood.
#3: An hour before bed, turn down the lights.
This is all about getting better quality sleep, so that you have more energy in the morning. Set an alarm on your phone so you don’t forget. Ideally switch off your phone and your laptop, switch off the main lights and use side lamps or a dimmer switch. And make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible, using black out blinds, or an eye mask. Don’t forget your bathroom lights - try and have a night light option for just before bed, or if you wake up in the middle of the night.
Alternatively, you might want to try some blue light blocking glasses. A recent study found if you wear these every night for an hour before bed, after a week not only could your sleep quality improve but - apparently - you’ll also feel more productive at work.
#4: Cultivate a Winter mindset
If the winter blues was only about light, you would expect our cousins in northern Norway to be down right miserable. In a place like Tromso, they only get a few hours of indirect sunlight each day during winter, as the sun hovers on the horizon. But research shows that winter depression in Tromso is something of a rarity.
There is a culture not of despair, but of appreciation. People learn to frame the winter as a unique time - with soft light, cosy fires and winter sports.
So to unleash your inner Norwegian, try and cultivate a winter challenge mindset - this is an opportunity! Try and use the winter months to explore new places, create a photo diary for each day, OR just focus on 3 things you’re grateful for each night before you go to bed - gratitude is a wonderful antidote for stress.
#5: Feel connected
Restrictions on physical contact are here to stay for a while, but just because we’re all physically distancing from others we can still feel connected. Physical isolation and loneliness are not the same thing. Research shows that when you feel part of the community, or you have supportive social ties, you will both sleep better AND have a better quality of life.
We all have our own ways of connecting, the important part is to remember to protect time to maintain and strengthen those connections.
Whether it’s helping out a neighbour, asking a friend for help, spending a phone-free evening with your household, or sending someone a card as a surprise, building connections is a great way to banish the blues.
So there you have it, 5 ways to improve your winter wellbeing. Good luck and sleep well.
Huge thanks to Charlie MacEwen and the team at WPA, a not-for-profit private health insurance agency, for putting together this video!