26 January 2017

Beating the winter blues

Dan Hodgson tips articleDr Daniel Hodgson, consultant psychiatrist & Bristol medical lead in Bristol Mental Health's Assessment & Recovery Service, shares his advice for beating the winter blues.

Dark nights, cold weather, coughs and colds give most of us a touch of the winter blues, particularly after the holiday period comes to an end. Many are left feeling exhausted, wondering why their bank account is empty and wanting to hide under the duvet until at least April. So how do you overcome the winter blues?

 

Increase exposure to light
CloudsResearch has shown that the brain is affected by the amount of UV light it comes into contact with and that this light influences the hormones in the brain that control the body's daily rhythms and mood. If there isn't enough light the brain can have too high levels of melatonin, the hormone that signals the difference between day and night. This leads to people having difficulties getting up in the morning and feeling lethargic during the day. There can also be less serotonin in the brain during shorter winter days and low levels of this chemical have been associated with depression.

Some research has shown that exposure to morning UV light is particularly helpful at warding off the blues. Consider planning an outdoor activity in the mornings before work or taking a stroll outside during a morning break. When your body needs more sunlight sitting next to a window or investing in an artificial light, called a light box, can be an effective solution and has mild antidepressant properties.

 

Keep your sleep habits under control

Woman sleepingTry to stick to a sensible daily routine, particularly when it comes to your sleep habits. During the early part of the year it is often dark when you wake up and dark from late afternoon. Make a plan to wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day to reestablish good sleep patterns. Avoid using alcohol and caffeine to manage your sleep and wakefulness as these can disrupt the quality of sleep and lead to further problems. Remember that naps exceeding more than 20-30 minutes can disrupt your nighttime sleep so try to avoid sleeping during the day to catch up on lost sleep.

 

Increase your aerobic exercise
WalkingTake regular walks outdoors, if possible, and increase aerobic exercise, particularly under bright light conditions. Studies have shown that walking fast for 30 minutes a day, five times a week or 60 minutes a day, three times a week improves symptoms of mild to moderate depression. Research has confirmed that exercise under brighter light improves general mental health and emotional wellbeing, social functioning and energy levels.

 

 

Modify your diet
Basket of vegetablesUse the winter months to make changes to your diet. This means avoiding sugary foods that only give temporary feelings of euphoria. Sweets and simple carbohydrates such as white bread and white rice quickly raise blood glucose (sugar), flood the body with insulin (the hormone that controls sugar levels) and lead to a crash in your blood glucose, resulting in a mixture of fatigue and hunger. Try to eat protein three times a day and add in lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. If weight gain has been a concern in the winter months then get consider a healthy eating plan, speak to a dietician or GP and think about joining a weight management group.

 

Take measures to manage your stress
Friends on beach

Research has shown that keeping your mind active with a new interest or hobby wards off symptoms of the winter blues. It has been shown that social interaction is good for your mental health and emotional wellbeing. Make the extra effort to keep in touch with the people you care about and plan some regular social events, even if you're not feeling in the mood.

If you're having difficulties at work make sure you speak to colleagues or supervisors early and be honest with how you feel. Our Employment Service may be able to help you if you need support to stay in work.

Talking-based treatments such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can also help you cope with symptoms. Our Bristol Wellbeing Therapies Service offers a variety of talking-based treatments and resources for people who are feeling worried, stressed or unhappy. These are available and easily accessible in group-based or individual formats. You can self-refer by calling 0117 982 3209 or find more information at the link above.

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