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11 Dec

Keeping the Winter Blues at Bay

If you find yourself unrecognisable as soon as the clocks go back, you are not alone. As the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, I become increasingly hermit-like.

There are reasons for this. Sensitivity to the lack of sunlight that results from winter’s shorter days disrupts our internal body clock. The lack of sunlight also causes an increase in melatonin production, the hormone that regulates our body clock and sleep patterns – and has been linked to depression.

As a result, I just want to stay in bed all day and eat potatoes in all their forms. I am perpetually tired, grumpy and increasingly anxious. This is, of course, unrealistic. But that fact doesn’t make it any easier to continue with normal life. I will never be a winter person (just like I will never be a morning person), but here are my best tips for overcoming the winter blues. I’ve found that they help me maintain some sense of self until spring’s thaw.

Light up your life

The very literal doom and gloom of winter can have a profound effect on our mood. Turning on your lamps and overhead lights can help battle this. If you really want to level up, invest in a light box, or special lamp that mimics natural sunlight. I purchased an alarm clock/lamp that mimics sunrise and it has made my mornings exponentially easier.

Keep it moving

It can be even harder than usual to drag yourself to the gym when it’s dark outside – whether that’s in the morning or after work. But it’s important to keep moving and active. Not only does keeping up with your usual routine help maintain some momentum that will get you through the winter months, but the endorphin release will give you a much-needed pick-me-up. If you really can’t face the gym, a quick home workout in your pyjamas and slipper socks will do the trick too. Whatever works.

Fuel your body

I have a special place in my heart for potatoes, as I’ve already said. But during winter, I don’t discriminate. Pizza, garlic bread, mashed potatoes, mozzarella sticks: I love you all equally. But I have learned the hard way that while these may give me short-term pleasure, they make me feel worse almost immediately after. More complex carbohydrates, such as broccoli, spinach, courgettes and lentils take longer to digest, meaning they don’t cause the sudden spikes in blood sugar that can play havoc with your mood. And when broccoli isn’t quite hitting the spot, we all know that chocolate can act as a mood enhancer and anxiety reliever, so – enjoy.

Supplement your diet

Vitamin D plays an important role in mood regulation, but the lack of sun during winter means that most of us are deficient in the vital vitamin during these months. Omega-3s may also be useful. They are thought to impart an antidepressant effect by improving cell function in the brain and blood.

Turn on the tunes

In a 2013 study, researchers showed that listening to upbeat or cheery music significantly improved participants’ mood in both the short and long term. “Our work provides support for what many people already do – listen to music to improve their moods,” said lead author Yuna Ferguson, who performed the study while she was an MU doctoral student in psychological science.

Ellie Hyman

Manchester born and bred, after reading English Literature at Durham University, Ellie moved to London. Now, working in financial communications, Ellie also freelances; her specialisms are lifestyle, beauty, psychology. In her spare time, you'll probably find her with her nose in a book or upside down in various yoga positions.

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