Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a condition that causes symptoms such as depression, fatigue and sleep problems. It is triggered by the change of seasons and the onset on shorter days and colder weather.
SAD is the most common cause of low mood in winter, however, individuals without this particular condition may also experience symptoms such as low mood and lack of motivation. So, in this blog, I go over some very simple steps to improve mood in winter. These are:
Get lots of fresh air and daylight
Cut down on sugar and sweeteners
Talk to others
1. See green
There's plenty of evidence to show that being out in a green space, such as a country park or some luscious woodland, can enhance mental wellbeing. More recently, however, research has looked into this in a little more detail and the results are exciting. Those who spend more time in green space report lower levels of stress.
It is thought that seeing green space activates a part of the brain known as the posterior cingulate. This is known for its role in emotional responses and motivation. When an individual is exposed to a green area, it also seems to interact with the body's stress responses to create a more positive feeling.1
With green space being so important to our health, it is a good idea to spend a little more time enjoying it. Admittedly, with skeleton trees and mud-filled paths, there's a little less green to be seen in winter. However, just getting out into a more natural area will bring benefits.
You could, for example, complete daily errands whilst also taking a stroll through the park or a street known to contain plenty of trees! If you are working in an office, you may also want to position yourself looking outdoors.
2. Get lots of fresh air and daylight
As well as supporting our mental wellbeing through exposure to green land, spending time outdoors is a great way to boost vitamin D levels. This nutrient is well-known to positively influence mood, however, we can quite easily get deficient in this nutrient during the winter months as most of our vitamin D intake comes from the sun which can be lacking. Therefore, spending as much time as possible outdoors is a good way to keep stores topped up and to keep your mood supported.
If you suffer symptoms of SAD, including low mood and fatigue, watch my video on how light therapy can help below.
3. Cut down on sugar and sweeteners
Sugars and sweeteners are one of the more surprising things to have a negative effect on mood. A diet containing high levels of the artificial sweetener aspartame, in particular, has been linked with irritable mood and increased depression.2 Food and drinks that may include this sweetener are diet sodas, cereals and yoghurt.
A diet high in sugary foods has also been connected with mood disorders3 and even anxiety.4 They also tend to provide a snappy energy lift which is quickly followed by a crash which can leave us feeling tired and unmotivated.
I suggest eating fresh foods as much as you can – this will provide your body with lots of energy and mood-boosting nutrients. The likes of wholegrains, bananas and nuts and seeds are also more likely to give you a steady release of energy to see you through an afternoon or morning, compared to the sugary foods that only help you out for a short while.
4. Keep busy
The long, dark nights and rainy/cold days that are all too common during winter provide the perfect opportunity to try something new and lift your mood at the same time. Keeping busy, for example, will provide something to focus on and look forward to. You could take up a new hobby or pick up something that you enjoy but haven't practiced in a while – maybe a spot of knitting, an adult colouring book, an exercise class, embroidery or journal-writing.
5. Move more
Movement is a very reliable way to improve mood as it releases mood-influencing hormones such as endorphins. Therefore, if the change in seasons has a negative impact on your mood it is a good idea to keep as active as possible throughout the winter months.
Try adding ten minutes of activity into your day and gradually build this up until you are moving more regularly. Climbing, gym sessions, exercise classes, dance workshops, curling, ice-skating and swimming are just a few indoor exercise options for those who wish to get moving whilst also avoiding poor winter weather.
Warm, sunny weather has been shown to boost mood, hence why we often feel a little less happy in winter when the weather isn't so good. Whilst we can't control what the weather outside is doing, we can control how warm our cold our bodies are. This is significant as research has also shown that a very hot or very cold temperature can have a negative impact on mood. We want to achieve a happy medium (around room temperature) in order to benefit our mood.5
So, ideally, this would suggest we want to get outside when there's winter sun about but at the same time, we should layer up in order to keep out cold temperatures and to help ensure that we see the most improvement to our mood. Hot food like soup, as well as drinks like herbal tea, will also help to ensure you stay warm and happier throughout winter.
7. Talk to others
Last but not least, make sure those around you know how the winter is affecting your mood. They'll be able to offer support and encouragement at this time. If you need further assistance in dealing with low mood, speak to your doctor or check out the many online resources from charities such as Mind.