Sunday, 3 November 2019

Tis the season to be gloomy: 17 effective ways to cope with the winter blues

Withered tree in the snow
Photo by Fabrice Villard on Unsplash

Happy November folks! Well, I suppose happy is not the right word to use. After all, November marks the return of winter and winter blues. If you ever wondered how to cope with winter blues, don't worry my friend, this post is here to help you out.

Winter strikes unexpectedly. One minute, you are soaking in the sunshine and the next, you are stuck indoors, shivering while the outside world is shrouded in eternal darkness. I'm not a winter person at all, some people enjoy the lower temperatures, but I just can't stand the darkness and cold. it makes me feel so miserable.

The sudden change in seasons can have a detrimental effect on our well-being, people generally refer to this as winter blues. The clinical term for depressive episodes that occur through fall and winter is Seasonal Affective Disorder.

While it is thought that winter blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder is one and the same, Seasonal Affective Disorder can cause extreme distress, debilitating your daily activities. The influence of Seasonal Affective Disorder can extend beyond simply experiencing sadness. I think that this is important to address - if you feel that you are unable to function during winter months, you should consider seeking help from medical professionals.

If you are like me, mildly affected by winter, you can employ simple strategies to bounce back and restore your positive well-being. In this post, I will share some useful methods for coping with the winter blues.



What are the 3 main causes of winter blues? 


The role of reduced light on serotonin levels 


The impact of environmental change on our well-being can be explained in biological terms. When we are exposed to limited light sources in winter months, this affects the production of serotonin. 

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter - neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that transmit signals in the brain. Serotonin is often described as the 'happiness hormone'. Serotonin contributes to your overall well-being and happiness.

This means that when our serotonin levels decrease, we may start feeling low. A multitude of research studies shows that depressed patients have low serotonin levels.

Disruption of circadian rhythm  


Another suggested cause of winter blues relates to the change in our circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is a fancy term for your internal clock. You may find it difficult to adjust to seasonal change, shorter winter days may lead to a disturbance to your circadian rhythm. Basically, the light changes can confuse the body, wreaking havoc on your internal functions and mood.

Limited positive reinforcement during winter 


Finally, winter has limited positive reinforcers, that is the hours of daylight, outside activities and so on. Simply put, in contrast to summer, winter offers fewer ways of generating positivity. As winter approaches, we tend to be forced to isolate ourselves and this can disrupt your well-being. 

17 useful methods for coping with the winter blues 


1. Using distraction techniques 


Try to spend time during the winter, engrossed in the activities that you enjoy. Distract yourself from your negative emotions by focusing on something more positive. Stop giving your negative emotions value.

2. Try your best to eat well 


By eating healthily, you will get vitamins and minerals that your body requires. Focus on consuming fruit, vegetables all the good stuff.

Don't just feed on the carbs (I mean I am always tempted to eat pasta every day throughout the winter, but that's not that good for you :) )/ Remember, a healthy body - healthy mind. Don't forget to look after yourself.

3. Try vitamin D supplements


I am not a doctor, but if you find that you need to, try taking vitamin D supplements. Consult pharmacists and staff for the best option for you. Sunlight is considered one of the key sources of vitamin D.

This means that in winter, our Vitamin D can plummet down. Low vitamin D symptoms include fatigue, depression, muscle pain, and hair loss.

4. Engage in regular exercise 


Engage in regular exercise, and by regular exercise, I don't mean sign up to the gym and pressure yourself to run on a treadmill every morning. That's just an evil thing to put yourself through!

I mean, engage in casual moving, instead of being still all day. Simple walks around the block can do wonders as well. I feel like going outside also helps to clear my head. You can also pay attention to your surroundings, and turn it into a mindfulness exercise.

5. Take yourself out of the negative environment 


Whenever you start feeling extremely down, try not to isolate yourself in your room. When you isolate yourself inside a negative environment, you become a prisoner of your misery.

Fight your emotions by taking yourself from the environment. This can take the form of simply going to a coffee shop, or a library if you like reading books!

6. Wake up earlier than usual 


The days are shorter in winter, so make the most of the day time by waking up earlier than usual. It will give you more time to engage in activities that you need to do during the day time.

I used to sleep for hours in winter (like a hibernating bear!) and get up in darkness. Sleeping the day away will not do you any good.

7. Try not to feel guilty if you can't manage to do everything in the day


Considering the short days in winter, it can be quite difficult to achieve everything that you plan to. I tend to pressure myself to consistently work on tasks during the day, but it never feels like I'm doing enough.

I get frustrated when it's around 4pm, it's dark and my productivity gets replaced by my fatigue. How did this happen? Did I not work hard enough? 

Try not to feel guilty about not managing to do as much as you have hoped to. We all tend to be extreme perfectionists. In one of my earlier blog posts, I reflected that being unproductive does not make you worthless. 

8. Give light therapy a chance 


If you can't get enough natural light, the best action to take is to make sure you get enough artificial light. There are plenty of artificial lights on the market, said to help with seasonal affective disorder.

I cannot guarantee the effectiveness of light therapy, but even the NHS considers light therapy as a possible solution to low mood during winter.

In contrast to anti-depressants, light therapy is a safe option as it is free from side effects. There are also wake-up light alarm clocks that mimic the process of sunrise.

9. Remember that winter blues is only temporary 


It might feel like you are stuck in eternal darkness and miserable weather, but seasons change quickly. I suppose when we are children, it feels like you are stuck between seasons for eternity, well at least that's how it used to feel to me. The time between festive events used to be a drag.

As adults we have far more responsibilities, our lifestyles are busier and there are far more things we have to do, that's why the time seems to go much faster.

I mean come on, I can't believe that it's almost 2020. Remember that winter blues is only a temporary thing. Sunshine will be back very soon.

10. Know that you are not alone in your misery 


Winter blues and even seasonal affective disorder is extremely common. Understand that you are not alone in your suffering. There are plenty of people who share your experience, who find it difficult to stay happy in the colder months.

Knowing this will help you to feel less isolated from others. When I'm down, I tend to detach myself from society, I fixate on the fact that other people just wouldn't get what's happening in my head.

The thing is, your winter blues can be minimized if you feel more connected with like-minded people. Human connection can kindle warmth and compassion within you. After all, common humanity - the ability to see suffering as a shared human experience, is one of the elements of self-compassion. 

11. Try to find pleasure in the little things 


You need to actively search for pleasure in the little things. Whether it is getting cosy indoors, while it is pouring outside or looking forward to Christmas.

Focusing on the positives will help you to fight the negative thoughts in your head. Winter is what you make of it. You can either detest it or make it the best time of your life.

12. Engage in self-care rituals 


There is no better time for self-care than winter in my opinion! So, take the opportunity to treat yourself well. When you are on a verge of depression, your mind may trick you into deserting your needs, sort of like as a way of self-punishment.

Fight that self-hatred breathing monster, run yourself a bath, engage in some journalling, express yourself creatively. There are numerous self-care activities, choose whatever sounds best for you.

You could even dedicate a set time during the day for self-care and this could give you something positive to look forward to. Engaging in self-care rituals will help you to make the winter blues more bearable.

13. Focus on self-improvement instead of hatred 


Winter blues could force you into a whirling spiral of self-hatred. You may be used to looking at yourself negatively and judging your character. Focus on self-improvement instead of criticism. 

Engaging in personal development activities will give you a sense of achievement. Achievement is good for your well-being, it results in satisfaction and elevated dopamine levels - dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in pleasure, motivation, and learning. Plan out what skills you would like to work on and then go from there.

14. Don't forget to socialize with other people


It is difficult to fight winter blues on your own, this can result in loneliness. When you isolate yourself, you are stuck with your thoughts. Sometimes it's good to talk to others, it can offer you new ways of looking at things. 

Other people can also make you laugh and lift your spirits. It might be tempting, but try not to build a wall between yourself and others. 

You don't have to socialise for hours with people, as an introvert I know that being around people can cause extreme fatigue. Engage in as much socialization as you personally can. 

15. Challenge your negative thinking patterns 


One of the most important ways to deal with winter blues is to make sure that you challenge your negative thinking patterns. I have talked about cognitive reappraisal previously in my blog before, it's a useful technique that I have learned in my psychology course and group CBT.

Simply put, try your best to rationalize your thoughts, if you cannot find evidence to support your negative thoughts, this means that engaging in those thoughts is not worth your time. 



16. Break your habits and engage in out of the ordinary activities 


To overcome your winter blues, you should aim to do things differently. You need to break your habits, jump from your safety cocoon and engage in out of the ordinary activities. 

Following a routine is dull, it can make you feel like you are in a rut. Experience novel and eye-opening adventures. For instance, you could go to a festive market somewhere that you've never been to before. You can sign up for a cooking class or engage in yoga...you get the gist. 

17. Try not to feel bad about feeling bad 


This point extends beyond winter blues. At the end of the day, without negative feelings, it would be impossible to truly appreciate happiness. Your feelings are part of your human experience, so try not to feel bad about feeling bad. 

When it comes to winter blues, understand that it is natural to be affected by environmental changes. Your struggling does not make you a weak person. Remember to treat yourself with loving-kindness, be your own friend and not your enemy. 


Here you have it. I hope that you find this detailed list useful. In addition, I hope that understanding the causes of winter blues will also help you to feel better. Remember that your well-being requires constant effort and patience. Do you have any ways of dealing with the winter blues? 

Thank you for reading! You can follow my blog for more posts. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Let's be friends! 

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9 comments :

  1. See I really struggle to decipher whether my mood is affected by seasonal change as Autumn is definitely my favourite season for loads of reasons however I still tend to struggle with low mood. I try my best to get out as much as I can and to eat hearty and healthy foods but sometimes it just doesn't seem to help! I will definitely try more mental therapy and being less hard on myself if I'm not as productive as I'd hoped. Really enjoyed reading this :-)
    Alice Xx

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    1. Hey Alice, thanks for your comment! Sometimes it just takes time to recharge. Whenever I am in a slump I feel like I will stay like that for the rest of my life. Take care!

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  2. Initially I wasn't sure what to expect reading this post; I know what the winter blues are so I didn't think that I would find anything new. I am so glad that I clicked on the link! Although this is a topic that I know about, you talked about it in more depth than I could have imagined, and your insights and suggestions were so useful. The two pieces that really resonated with me were to "challenge your negative thinking patterns" and to "break your habits and engage in out of the ordinary activities." I feel inspired to engage more deeply in both of these, not just for the winter blues, but to better my self-care year round. I'm looking forward to the next wonderful post!

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    1. Hey Ashley, thank you so much for visiting my blog. Your comment really did make a smile on my face. It's people like yourself who find my content helpful motivates me to continue and keep writing!

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  3. This was an interesting post to read, so thank you for sharing! As much as I love the winter months, I think that it definitely has an effect on my mood. You've included some great tips too!

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  4. This is a great post, so many amazing suggestions for people that struggle in the winter months. I struggle with bad insomnia and actually find that I'm a lot happier/ healthier in the winter months because the reduced daylight has a positive impact on my sleeping habits/ pattern. Eating healthily and staying active are great for a positive mood all year though x

    Sophie
    www.glowsteady.co.uk

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  5. This is a comprehensive, great post - great suggestions and information!

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  6. This is great. My mental health really takes a beating in winter. I struggle with the darkness, tiredness, lack of outdoor adventure and really just how limiting the winter can be. There are some great tips here. Letting go of the guilt is huge for me. I don't like the sound of getting up super early though....!

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  7. This is a fab post filled with lots of great ideas! I find in Autumn and Winter that it takes more effort and energy to be motivated, so it's definitely important to practice self-care to counterbalance that additional energy.

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