Does the phrase “the nights are drawing in” fill you with dread? The clocks going back in October marks the countdown to Christmas and for some, the start of a long dark winter. Many people will be anxious about how to manage their moods during the season of short days and long nights.
Even if you don’t suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known as SAD, you may notice a shift in your mood and/or energy levels as the days get colder and darker. This is because daylight regulates our sleep/wake cycles, hormones and metabolism. When there is less light around, we can find ourselves feeling drowsier than normal, sleeping longer and finding it harder to get out of bed in the morning.
If you are experiencing low mood, irritability or tearfulness and find it difficult to motivate yourself, there are some things you can do to help you through the winter months.
LIGHT – Get as much of it as you can. Even on cloudy days the amount of ‘lux’ (a measure of light) is still high. If you end up travelling to and from work in the dark, do what you can to get out at lunchtime. Get as much light as you can, but aim for a minimum of 30 minutes.
FAKE IT – For people who are particularly (genetically) sensitive to it, 30 minutes won’t be enough, so a light box/SAD lamp can be helpful. Up to an hour in the mornings, every day, throughout the season can be an effective way to boost your mood and help you get through.
VITAMIN D – Along with the shift in sleep and mood hormone production, the lack of sun and spending more time wrapped up or indoors means that your Vitamin D production drastically reduces. The NHS recommends adults supplement with 10mcg/day from October-March. REMEMBER: if you have dark skin you may need to supplement year-round.
NOURISH – An urge to turn to comfort food is not uncommon during the winter months and whilst high carb favourites will provide some enjoyment, too many will make you feel sluggish and lazy. Try to keep up your intake of veggies and fruit to balance out the carbs. Dark green leafy vegetables have been shown to decrease symptoms of SAD, and diets high in B12 (beef, oily fish & diary) and omega-3 fatty acids (oily fish, nuts, seeds and plant oils) have been shown to decrease depression and improve mood.
CONNECT – Making plans with friends will give you something to look forward to and help to boost your mood. The COVID-19 pandemic restrictions make this harder to do but you can still find ways to connect and spend time (socially distanced!) with loved ones such as a phone call, a zoom coffee or a walk outside.
If you still feel low, have a chat with your GP who might suggest a brief course of antidepressants or the support of a counsellor to help you through the winter months.