Beating the Winter Blues


It’s that time of year when some days it feels as if it barely gets light. It certainly feels like the rain has been lashing down for so long that it’s time to start building an ark. I’m no expert on Seasonal Affective Disorder, which some studies claim affects as much as 29% of us, but I do know that many of us lose that spring in our step as the nights draw in and the days turn grey.

In days gone by we would have worked outdoors during daylight hours. Whilst in the winter, these hours would be reduced, we would still be receiving a good dose of natural
light. However, our modern way of living means that at this time of year we often leave to go to work indoors in the dark and return home in the dark. On top of that, the advent of electric lights coupled with hectic lifestyles mean that many of us keep the same timetable the whole year around and we are overriding that connection with our bodies natural circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms help to regulate and control; digestion, appetite, energy levels, sleep quality and length, and mood. Artificial light can reduce our production of melatonin which is the hormone that aids sleep and reduced daylight can cut our body’s ability to produce serotonin, our so-called “happy hormone” which contributes to our feelings of happiness and well-being.

Is it any wonder then that we can feel just a bit rubbish at this time of year? The good news is that there are things we can do to help ourselves.

The most obvious one is to get outside as often as possible and get exposure to what daylight we have. I find walking my dog is a great excuse to get out in all weathers and
living in Devon, there are no shortages of coast nor moor on which to feel windswept and rainsoaked. But, it doesn’t have to be a big expedition. How about taking a break from your desk at lunchtime to get a 20 minute blast of light and air - notice how much fresher and productive you’ll feel when you return to your desk.

I recently took part in a discussion on social media about this topic of the winter blues and endorphin producing exercise seemed to be the most popular solution for many
people. Get a double whammy of feel good hormones by exercising outside when you can. Many of us naturally feel the urge to indulge in warming comfort foods but watch out for the refined carbs which can cause sugar spikes that are unhelpful for our mood. Instead look to eat complex carbohydrates such as wholegrain and pulses.

Whilst on the subject of diet, our main source of vitamin D comes from exposure to the sun so you may wish to up your vitamin D rich foods such as fatty fish, egg yolks or
mushrooms or consider taking a supplement. I always try and slot something into this early winter period that I can look forward to. This year it was a couple of days in Cornwall with a girlfriend, last year a weekend yoga retreat.

Finally, how about embracing those upsides of winter? I’m a big fan of hot baths but wouldn’t dream of having one in the summer. Now’s the time to have a good long soak,
break out the scented candles followed by curling up on the sofa with an episode or two of ‘The Crown’! Maybe winter’s not so bad after all.