This time of year sees many people noticing a drop in their zest for life. As the weather gets colder and the days are shorter, our happy disposition can sometimes take a dive. So why does this happen to so many during the colder months, and what can we do to help ourselves survive another cold winter without completely losing our mojo?
Research exploring the impact of reduced sunlight on both our mind and body has found reduced exposure to sunlight in winter can disrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythm. As we spend more time inside, and covered up when outdoors, we receive a lot less sunshine on our skin, meaning we produce more melatonin and less serotonin.
The melatonin makes you sleepy and can contribute to the struggle to get out of bed and wanting to get into bed much earlier. While this might be nice for those of you who struggle to sleep it can also trigger a depressive cycle for others who then find all they want to do is sleep.
The serotonin helps regulate our mood and helps us feel more joy and positive emotions, so when we ditch the sunlight we impact the production of this important hormone, leading to a drop in mood and a drop in motivation to get out and about – starting that vicious cycle. If you suffer from depression winter may feel even more challenging than usual and reduced sunlight is something to consider. Push yourself to go outside more often and roll up your sleeves. If its freezing, sit by a window in the sun and let the sunlight fall directly on your skin.
We are also less likely to socialise during the colder months and this has a negative impact on our emotional well-being. Pushing ourselves to engage socially, even when we don’t feel like it, can boost your mood and help regulate the ongoing depressed feelings that can rise during winter. Maybe trying to set up some game’s nights or lunches during the day to help keep the social side working, even when you don’t feel like it - sometimes we need to do things that feel uncomfortable to ensure our health is maintained or improved.
The other thing that often slides to the background in winter is exercise. Yep, I get it, it is freezing and that 6am jog now feels like a torture activity. It might mean you need to change things but not stop things. Maybe you can get on an indoor treadmill or maybe you can jog later. Of course, sometimes these things are super tricky as we work around our family and work schedules, but where there is a will there is a way. There are tonnes of free YouTube workouts that you can do in your lounge room with little or no equipment and there is good old-fashioned walking (also helping with the hit of sunshine) and this can happen with kids on a weekend if that’s the only tie you can find. Even a few minutes outside can help boost your mood and allow a more positive perspective so please get outside!
Of course, the other one is food. We all want to eat comfort warm indulgent food in winter but maybe try making delicious soups and stews that are a lean version of the usual. Make sure to get as many veggies as you can as this helps your immune system – and nothing hits our mood more than being sick and miserable- so keeping up the vitamin intake through your diet is super important.
Sleep my old friend. It seems for some it is an ever-elusive foe and for others a too comfy friend that wants to outstay their welcome. Sleep hygiene is super important for maintain mental health and this can be tricky for many. Start with a simple bedtime routine that teaches your body and brain that it is sleep time. It might include cleaning your teeth, going to the toilet and then lying in bed with a soft lamp and reading (from a book preferably not a phone or tablet) for ten minutes. The most vital key though is going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day – yes even on Sundays! This helps your body clock set and assists you in regulating sleep and regulated sleep helps regulate moods and appetite and all the things we are hoping to regulate. Sleeplessness and mood disorders are closely linked, so making sleep hygiene a priority is essential to feeling your best.
Limit the news you are watching as drowning our brain in the trauma the world is experiencing is not helping your mood or the world. There is a lot of research suggesting exposing yourself to happy stimulus can assist in pushing your moods up and of course, the opposite happens when we are bombarding our brains with negative stimulus such as the news, and angry, sad or violent movies or video games. Strange how we are drawn to these things when we are starting to head down the depressive spiral so the key is to resist the urge to indulge your low moods and counter it with something that makes you laugh – you will feel so much better for it and your perception of how well you will cope will also shine brighter.
So, while winter is here try chasing the sun at any opportunity during the day with rolled up sleeves and combine it with a brisk walk. Eat well, catch up with friends and family and watch some funny movies with a side of feelgood warm and fuzzies, and remind yourself how grateful you are for any small or big positive things that are in your life.