As the days get shorter and colder, it’s easier to want to stay inside, warm, under a blanket. It is common for people to feel tired, sad, unmotivated, and unfocused, and find that their whole routine changes. The phrase “winter blues” might come to mind and it affects more people than you might think. For many people, this feeling doesn’t last very long and can easily be helped with small lifestyle changes or the addition of mood-boosting mechanisms.
In this article, we’re going to look at 11 tips on how to beat the winter blues.
What Are Winter Blues?
The winter blues are a temporary change in your mood which is linked to the change in season. The cold and darker winter days leave many of us confined to being indoors, prone to many colds and bugs, and generally feeling rubbish. The winter blues appear as sadness during the autumn and winter month, with some suffering from trouble sleeping and a lack of motivation.
However, for some, this can even manifest as a more severe type of depression called a seasonal affective disorder or SAD. SAD is more severe feelings of sadness and depression, that may affect sleep, and eating and limit motivation and everyday functions such as self care, going to work, socialising, and housework.
What Causes Winter Blues?
It is believed that the biggest contributor to the winter blues is the reduction in sun exposure. During the winter months, your access to the required UVB rays from the sun is reduced so your body struggles to create enough vitamin D. The sun is lower in the sky which means any rays you could be exposed to are less beneficial that when it is higher in the sky. Even if this wasn’t the case, you are more likely to stay indoors during this time or wear warm clothes to keep warm if you do go outside, which further reduces your exposure to the sun.
Vitamin D is required to produce the neurotransmitter, serotonin, which regulates mood, appetite, sleep, and energy levels. A low level of serotonin can lead to negative moods, lethargy/fatigue, and poor food choices. In addition to this, the darker days also trigger the body to produce more melatonin, which can disrupt your sleeping pattern – leaving you more tired and likely to sleep more or take naps.
11 Tips for Beating The Winter Blues
Unlike SAD, the winter blues can be easier to manage with some simple lifestyle changes. If you feel like this time of year is starting to bring you down, take a look at these 11 tips for how to beat the winter blues.
Get Outside and Walk
The sun might be too low in the sky for you to benefit from its rays and you might be covered from head to toe to keep warm, but that doesn’t mean getting outside isn’t going to be beneficial. Firstly, there is the fresh winter air which can be invigorating and energy-boosting. Going for walk (or run) and moving your body has been shown to boost your mood, reduce stress and help with depression (1). Try to get about 30 minutes of heart-pumping outdoor activity five times a week, even if it is broken up into three 10-minute sessions.
As we spend more time indoors, avoiding the cold and dark, it can be easy for us to start feeling isolated and alone – which can make the winter blues worse. During this time, it is so important to organise some social events with friends, family, and colleagues to help keep your mental health at its best. This can be anything from a night out, a cinema date, or coffee catchup to a phone call or even online via something like Zoom.
Eat a Mood-Boosting Diet
During the colder, darker months, your body instinctively seeks out foods higher in energy, such as high fat and sugar. This is from a time when humans were hunter-gatherers when food was scarce, and the next meal was unknown. Humans would need to build up stores of fat in order to survive this time of year. However, with food scarcity no longer an issue, you often make a habit of still overindulging in these foods during the winter months. Time constraints and a general lack of motivation can lead to a fattier food intake coming from foods that are not so beneficial to your health or mood. Rather than salads, you reach for warm and filling comfort foods, such as takeaways and convenience foods once the temperature starts to dip.
Try to eat a balanced diet by meal planning and incorporating mood boosting foods into your week. Foods such as turkey, eggs, fish, lentils, and tofu are high in the amino acid tryptophan – a key nutrient in the synthesis of serotonin. As you struggle to make your own vitamin D in the winter, try to include fatty fish, mushrooms, eggs, and foods fortified with vitamin D as these foods will also help increase your body’s stores of this essential nutrient.
Take Mood Boosting Supplements
Sometimes even the most well-planned diet needs a little boost, especially during the winter months. As previously mentioned, vitamin D can be a big issue for many at this time of year due to restricted sun exposure, so it is worth taking a supplement to help you get what you need. It is recommended that everyone should take a vitamin D supplement of 10 micrograms from October to April, however, those at higher risk of deficiency should take it throughout the year. These groups include:
- doesn’t go outside often (due to frailty or being housebound)
- is in an institution such as a care home
- usually completely covers their skin when outdoors
- infants and children over the age of one,
- infants under one and breastfed or having less than 500ml of formula per day
Another supplement to consider is tryptophan (2), especially if your diet is low in foods that naturally contain it. This helps your body to create serotonin, which is the body’s happy hormone, giving you a natural boost. However, if you are on any medications that effect serotonin, such as anti-depressants, please discuss this with your GP first.
There has been some research that suggests that meditation can be an effective method of beating the winter blues (3). By relaxing your mind and body, you stimulate melatonin, the hormone responsible for your body’s natural sleep pattern. It is also thought that it might help in reducing stress.
Keep on Top of your Sleep
Sleeping can be such a huge contributor to the winter blues as the dark mornings and nights play havoc on your circadian rhyme – your internal clock. Before the days of the 9-5 job, your body would regulate your sleep in a simple way, if the sun was up, so were you. Lifestyles dictate schedules of being up, awake and out of the house before the sun has risen and not home until it has long set. It can be quite difficult to feel motivated to get out of bed in the morning. If you are struggling you could try a few things to keep your sleep in check, including:
- using a sunrise clock, which mimics sunrise and sunset
- keeping active and going for a walk each evening
- avoiding caffeine before bedtime, try herbal options
- eating a healthy balanced diet
- use relaxing oils such as lavender
- avoid screens before bed, instead read a book
Make the Time for Self-Love
With such busy lives, it can be difficult to really focus on yourself, especially if you have responsibilities such as family. Not having the time to do even the most basic of self-care tasks can leave you feeling low and useless, so it is important to take that time out. Set aside an hour a day or a couple of hours a week where you can just take yourself away from the routines and expectations of others and where can do something that makes you happy. That might be a bath, it might be watching a couple of episodes of a show you like with a hot cup of tea, it might be going for a walk, readying a book, or hitting the gym.
Laugh, Laugh a Lot
Laughing is thought to help counteract low mood and symptoms of depression (4). Try socialising with people who you know can make you properly laugh out loud. Alternatively, have a catalogue of films, TV shows, and your favourite comedians available to give you a good giggle on nights when you are particularly feeling the winter blues setting in.
Set Achievable Goals
Nothing motivates you more than having a goal to work towards, especially if you really want the reward at the other end. Give yourself a set of achievable goals to work towards during the winter months to keep you active and focused. These could be exercise goals, learning new hobbies, reading books, volunteering, raising money for charity, or even things like keeping on top of the housework. Allow yourself a reward for some of these tasks which will boost your mood through the release of dopamine (the reward hormone).
Taking a break from the regular day-to-day routines can be a great way to improve your moods. You can look at getting away to somewhere hot and sunny, giving you plenty of time to relax and top up those vitamin D stores. Alternatively, a staycation can be just as beneficial, especially if you go somewhere that you have never been before as this will motivate you to get out and about exploring – ticking that fresh air and exercise box for mood boosting.
If you have tried all these other options and you are still struggling, you could look at light therapy. A light box can help regulate the body’s circadian rhythm, releasing melatonin when the body needs it to aid with sleep and mood. They emit up to 10 times the amount of light that regular house or work lights do which means just 30 minutes in front of one can be beneficial to your mood.
Talk To Your Doctor
If you find you are really struggling with the winter blues, or feel that you might be suffering from SAD, then speak to your doctor. Myvitamins do not make any medical or health-related claims that should be followed above the advice of a medical professional.
Take Home Message
It is normal to feel the effects of the cold and darker months, and it is common for you to feel the winter blues in one way or another. For many, it is easy to reduce its influence with simple routines and by including good food, supplements and taking the time to look after yourselves properly. The key points are to eat well, sleep well, get outside as much as possible, and if you feel like it is more than just the blues then speak to a professional.
What months are winter blues?
The winter blues are usually felt between October and April when the days are colder and shorter.
What causes the winter blues?
It is believed that reduced exposure to sunlight is the key contributor to the winter blues. Your body struggles to get enough vitamin D, which is required to produce serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for feeling happy. A lack of sunlight also affects your melatonin levels which are responsible for your natural sleep pattern, leaving you feeling more lethargic that during the summer months.
How can I improve my mood in winter?
A combination of lifestyle improvements can have a positive effect on your mood in the winter. Eating well, getting outside as much as you can, exercising, spending time with people you like, and even laughing can all help boost your mood and stave off those winter blues.
How can I boost my energy in winter?
Easy way to boost your energy is to eat a well-balanced diet, including complex carbohydrates such as wholegrain pasta, rice, bread, and oats. Exercise, especially outside, can help give you an energy boost as well as release dopamine to make you feel great. A regular sleeping pattern, with 6-8 hours of sleep, will also help keep you energised.
What vitamins should I take for winter blues?
The key vitamin to be taking during the winter is vitamin D due to the reduction in sunlight which affects how much your body can make. Vitamin C can help keep your immune system healthy and help reduce your risk of getting ill which doesn’t help if you have the winter blues. Vitamin E may also be beneficial as it is an antioxidant so helps reduce inflammation and will aid with skin, nail, and hair care – making sure you feel good about yourself.
Other beneficial supplements include:
- Tryptophan – to help make serotonin
- Omega-3 – helps with mental health and brain processes
- Iron – is important in the production of healthy blood cells which deliver oxygen to every part of your body
Does vitamin D help with winter blues?
Yes, vitamin D is one of the most important steps to take to help combat the winter blues. It is recommended at everyone takes a vitamin supplement of 10 micrograms during the fall and winter months (October to April).