The clocks have gone back . . . A signifier to some of us of something that we may not have noticed so far . . . It has officially transitioned to winter.
The evenings are coming along faster at the end of each day, it’s light for a lot less of the time, temperatures are dropping and central heating if not already switched on, is being considered for the first time in a long time.
What does this have to do with our mental health?
Although our actual clocks, watches and iPhones have been set back an hour with no issue . . . Our internal body clocks can often struggle to adjust quite so well. The sudden lack of natural daylight is striking and our bodies and minds can struggle to regulate themselves.
In other words, we can feel a sense of the “winter blues”.
These “winter blues” can be referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is a recognised form of depression and the symptoms connected to SAD are very similar to those of depression . . . However, the symptoms come on in the Autumn / Winter and dissipate again in the Spring.
These symptoms can include:
· Feeling depressed or low in mood
· A sense of lethargy, persistent low energy
· Overeating, craving carbohydrates
· Loss of libido
· Sleep problems e.g. disturbed sleep or trouble waking
· Problems socialising
Even if we don’t feel that we are experiencing SAD, many of us can feel a sense of “life feels more difficult” in the winter months. We can feel more lethargic, we can struggle to feel energised when it is cold and dark in the mornings, we can miss the sun and feel more stressed or anxious because of such short days.
What Can Help?
Wherever you are on the scale . . .From diagnosed with SAD to just struggling slightly more in the winter months . . . there are psychological things we can do that can either exacerbate or alleviate the symptoms.
- Changing what we doIt can be useful to make an activity schedule, to note any changes in your activity, and if you find you are doing much less, to try to make sure you engage with rewarding, pleasurable and energising activities. Without doing this, the winter blues can result in a “vicious cycle” whereby you feel low and lethargic and therefore you do less. However, because of doing less you feel low and lethargic and therefore want to do less . . . The vicious cycle appears. Getting out of this pattern will feel difficult and you may have to force yourself into an activity to break out of the cycle.
- Holidays, Breaks, The OutdoorsPlan holidays and breaks over this period, knowing that the weather will be having this impact. This doesn’t mean you must go somewhere lighter and warmer, although this may be better . . . However just taking a break and implementing a change from your day to day can reenergise and soothe you. If a break or holiday is not realistic, plan activities over the weekend or in the evenings that involve the outdoors. Even the British outdoors!
- Plan things that will help with stressActivities that are calming and restorative to you . . . There are the obvious such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness . . . And these are known to impact stress in a positive way, however they may not feel ‘right’ for you. … . In which case have a think / brainstorm what is restful and destressing for you? Make sure you factor these activities into your winter period
These strategies can feel obvious but they can also feel hard to implement . . . Planning to be effective is often what can be most effective!