As winter comes around it can be a common occurrence for people to experience a dip in their mood and say they have the ‘winter blues’. It’s important to be aware of these rhythms in wellbeing over the year so that you can adjust your habits in order to look after yourself.
CAN WINTER AFFECT YOUR MOOD?
In short, yes – winter does have an impact on your mood. People who regularly experience a mood drop in the cold months may even be diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD for short). However, it is not all winter’s fault – it is also down to how we personally adjust to the winter months with our routines and mindset.
HOW DOES WINTER AFFECT MOOD?
- Lower serotonin levels – serotonin is a neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation in the body. It is partially created in the skin when we are exposed to sunlight. The shorter sunlight hours can mean less opportunity for the body to produce this hormone.
- Less exercise – when the weather turns colder and darker we may reduce our exercise habits, spending less time in nature and moving our bodies. This reduction in exercise also decreases our serotonin levels, further impacting mood.
- Mindset – if you have a perception that winter is cold and miserable then the chances are you will be looking for the negatives… and when we look for the bad we find it.
HOW TO BEAT THE WINTER BLUES
The first step is to recognise the need for you to take control of your own experiences. People who believe that ‘I feel rubbish in winter’ will manifest just that, because they are reinforcing a belief that their feelings just happen to them. In actual fact, the brain is a powerful organ and we can control many more of our emotions, experiences and perspectives than we may give credit for.
Once you believe that you can give yourself a positive winter then it becomes easier to build mood boosting activities into your week:
- Gratitude – taking time to be thankful is good for you all year round. If you normally struggle with winter then regularly noticing what you enjoy about the colder season can help you to change your perspective. Take time to appreciate those hot drinks, roast dinners, cosy socks or the morning frost. Make a list of what you enjoy about winter for a grateful reflection exercise. (Why not join the gratitude experience for some help getting started).
- Sunlight – make sure to build some natural light into your day. Sit by a window, get out for a lunchtime walk or even invest in a light therapy lamp. This will increase your vitamin D and serotonin levels to balance your mood.
- Gentle exercise – don’t let the cold weather put you off of being active. Small doses of aerobic exercise over the week are essential for our physical and mental wellbeing. Either find indoor exercises to do or learn to layer up so that you can do your usual outdoor activities comfortably.
- Diet – the body builds serotonin from foods which contain tryptophan. Making sure that you are getting tryptophan somewhere each week can help you to balance your mood; eggs, cheese, turkey, nuts, salmon, tofu, and pineapple are high in tryptophan.
- Good planning – if you know the kinds of activities which make you happy and lift your spirits then you are half way there. The next step is to plan in that time to do them. Start your week by pencilling in social activities, exercise, meditation habits or whatever else re-energises you. Small blocks of positive moments scattered throughout your week will help to keep you motivated and productive.
Looking to foster a more positive wellbeing routine? The Self Leadership Initiative provides coaching experiences and positive psychology workshops to help you uncover your happiest self. Get in touch to find out more.
Young S. N. (2007). How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience : JPN, 32(6), 394–399.