t’s the middle of winter, and the prospect of warm sunny days is a long way off. For some of us, it’s the most depressing time of year, where daylight is limited and the weather is often miserable – this is when the winter blues set in. So what can be done to lift our spirits?
The shorter days and longer nights can make us feel down, and that can cause us to eat more and exercise less. Some fear loneliness and isolation during the long dark months. Those people who suffer this seasonal mood swing more seriously are described as having seasonal affective disorder – or SAD for short. It’s a type of depression with a seasonal pattern caused by a lack of light and is thought to affect the part of the brain that rules sleep, appetite, mood and activity levels.
Jenny Scott-Thompson is one person who was diagnosed with SAD. She told the BBC: “I struggled with periods of exhaustion and misery that seemed out of proportion to what was going on in my life.” She was prescribed light therapy, which involved sitting in front of a light box. As well as going outside during daylight hours, this is believed to help anyone who is affected by the winter gloom.
Although having more light is an obvious cure, antidepressants can help those with more severe depression by artificially elevating the amount of serotonin in the brain. But this isn’t suitable for everyone, and many of us can try to just alter our mindset. Clinical psychologist Laura Keyes says, “it can be helpful to think about how to adapt your eating and exercise patterns to the change of season, just as this happens in nature with plants and animals adapting.”
It might sound easier said than done, but accepting winter and thinking positively may energise us. Writing for the BBC Social website, Esther De La Ford asks “What if we explored what this phase of winter has to offer us, instead of grieving those things that it is taking away?” She suggests we use this time for rest, reflection, slowing down, stillness and renewal. Maybe this might stop us longing for summer?