Friday, 22 January 2021

Wellbeing tips for staying happy during winter

Long, dark days and what sometimes seems like endless dreary weather can impact our mental and physical health. Winter is the season when we are more likely to suffer from colds, flu, and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), and not to mention piling on the pounds. So why is it that winter leaves so many of us feeling under the weather?

Why winter can affect our mood

During the winter months there is less sunlight and this has for many years been believed to cause an imbalance in the brain, and ultimately affect our mood. SAD can be seriously damaging to our wellbeing as it has similar symptoms to depression, including anxiety, fatigue, sadness, and lack of concentration. The mechanism for this change was not fully understood, but some researchers believe they now know the cause. 

Medical News Today takes a closer look at a study undertaken by researchers at the University of Copenhagen. The researchers measured levels of a protein called SERT in participants and found that those with SAD had more SERT during the winter than the summer.

SERT effectively reduces the activity of serotonin in our brains and as serotonin is known to regulate our mood, researchers believe this reduction in serotonin activity can lead to the depressive symptoms known as SAD.

Ways to stay happy in the winter months

Fortunately, there are many ways we can increase our levels of happiness to keep us smiling and lift our mood in the winter.

Get walking – Bearing in mind the research mentioned above, it is perhaps not surprising that being outside and soaking up the sunlight and vitamin D is one of the best ways to combat SAD and winter blues (a less severe condition). If you find yourself travelling to and from work in the dark, make use of your lunch break, wrap up warm and go for a walk outdoors. 

Sleep well – Try adjusting your sleep pattern by going to bed earlier and rising earlier. It may be tempting to sleep more when it's dark and cold, but too much sleep can leave you feeling sluggish and even more tired. 

Drink water – Water is a wonderful elixir that can remove toxins from the body and improve brain function. Staying hydrated can combat fatigue, reduce headaches, and help balance our moods as well as keep our skin in tip-top condition.

Eat healthy - There’s no denying the cold weather can make us want to reach for sugary and stodgy comfort foods, but this doesn’t mean we have to grab the nearest chocolate bar or survive on takeaways. There are plenty of healthy options that can satisfy your comfort food cravings – try making hearty soups or stews using lots of seasonal vegetables and white meat, which will also boost your immune system.

Embrace the winter – By appreciating the beauty that winter brings and paying close attention to the smaller details, mindfulness can put you in a more positive and happier mood. Go sledging in the snow (with or without the children), notice the frost glistening on the trees, listen to a crackling fire and watch the flames dancing, or sit outside at night around a firepit and watch the stars twinkling in the night sky.

Do a winter workout – If you can’t face dragging yourself out to the gym or the local pool, do a workout in the comfort of your home with yoga, dancing or aerobics. There are plenty of workouts available online but if you prefer, just play your favourite upbeat music and dance!

Avoid colds – By eating plenty of foods that contain vitamin C, such as oranges, broccoli, cherries, chillies, peppers, blackcurrants, and strawberries, you can keep colds and viruses at bay. Although the antioxidants don’t always prevent you from catching a cold, they can reduce the duration and severity.

For more tips on how to cope with SAD, check out our free webinar 'Coping with seasonal affective disorder during lockdown'. 

You can also watch the recordings of our other winter wellbeing webinars here>

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