What you can do to avoid the winter blues

Inset: Martin Furber provides a weekly column on mental health and well-being
Inset: Martin Furber provides a weekly column on mental health and well-being

“I wish I could wake up next March” is an expression I have heard twice in the past week.

We’re past the autumn equinox, which means we have more hours without daylight than with it.

At the end of this month, the clocks go back and winter will be well and truly on the way. This affects our natural body rhythms, and for some, can adversely affect their mental well-being, a condition known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

The effects can vary greatly from person to person ranging from a general feeling of tiredness and a lack of motivation through to extreme depression. It can make us anxious and irritable; we may start to crave carbohydrates such as starchy and sugary foods, making us gain weight. It can even affect our sex drive.

ALSO READ: How to try and feel better when stressed or overwhelmed

The lack of daylight in our lives, waking up in darkness, and coming home from work in darkness can all take their toll. Whilst we can’t control the seasons or the weather we can play a part in helping ourselves build some resilience to get through the long dark months ahead.

Quite simply, your body wants sunlight, without it we go into a type of ‘hibernation’ mode which makes us slow down and retreat into ourselves. Your body also needs to keep moving on a regular basis to keep your ‘happy hormones’ flowing and increase your sense of well-being.

It takes a little forward planning, and you may have to push yourself that bit harder but could really make a difference to your overall feeling of mental wellness this winter. It is the small, positive adjustments that make a big difference.

ALSO READ: What social media can mean for your mental health and well-being

Whenever possible, get yourself outdoors during sunlight hours. You may not feel inclined to in cold weather, but if you make the effort you will reap the rewards.

Are there any times when you could wrap up warm and get yourself outside for a brisk walk in daylight? Lunchtime at work perhaps? Could you get off the bus a couple of stops early and do some extra walking?

Think daylight - can you position yourself nearer to a window at home or work during daylight hours? What else could you do to ensure you’re getting more natural daylight? Have a think about it, just imagining seeing a blue sky can actually put you in a more positive frame of mind. Bring some nature into your home, get a couple of winter flowering plants and nurture them.

Plan ahead with your eating and ensure you are not overdoing it with too much carbohydrate-rich food. It will make a difference and you will feel energised and be more inclined to keep moving.

ALSO READ: 5 danger signs someone may be struggling with mental health

LED daylight simulator bulbs are cheap enough at many stores and are economical to run. They mimic natural light and keep you wakeful; just remember to turn them down in the evening.

Keeping up our social connections is very important. You might not feel inclined to go out in the cold to meet that friend for a coffee, but you will feel much better if you do.

At this time of the year, it is so easy to let things get on top of us, and let’s face it, these are difficult times for many. Don’t let the winter add to your problems.

Next week: Can we really think ourselves better?

If you feel you are in a mental health crisis or emergency and may be in danger of causing harm to yourself or others then please contact your GP, Samaritans on 116 123 or attend A&E.