How To Manage Your Mood Through Winter
The change of season right now means darker evenings, colder weather and an inclination to stay indoors. It can have a profound effect on people's mental health, low mood and lethargy being the most prominent, but if that was the case then surely many more people would suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) - the current figure being 1 in 3 people - so how do the other 2 manage?
It's natural to begin to feel a little tired and demotivated in autumn. After all, if we lived in the wild we'd probably be getting ready to hibernate. The change of season also signifies the end of the last one and summer is such a great time to be outdoors you can almost feel bereft that it seem like things are being taken away rather than being given.
But like most things Solution Focused I think we should be studying the solution rather than the problem. Look no further than Scandinavia - where the most northern parts of Norway may only get 2-3 hours of sunlight a day. and yet they have a very low incidence of SAD. So what's their secret and what can we learn from the Scandinavians to help us get through these next few months?
It's not the events in our life that cause us stress but our negative thought process around them. The seasons and weather is something we can't control, we can only control our reaction to them. But how do you adopt a positive mindset? It's easier said than done Here are some tips to help you get through the next few months and embrace the change.
Get as much light as you can
Studies* have proven that serotonin (the happy hormone) levels drop in winter due to poor light. So make sure you get some natural daylight every day in which case you will need to look at adapting your routine. for example, change your evening walk to a lunchtime one instead, make sure you sit by the window when indoors.
If you feel your symptoms are very severe you could invest in a lightbox which simulates natural daylight, although there is mixed evidence that this is an effective treatment. Remember even on dull days being outdoors is hugely beneficial.
Do some positive activity every day.
Do something every day that you enjoy. Again because of the season you may need to adapt. But that's what the season change can bring, a feeling that an adaptation is required. Maybe now is the time to get back into some old hobbies that you'd put to one side, or back into reading some good books and catching up on the box sets. People with good mental health don't complain about what's happening but make the most of the situation that is around them.
You should also consider how you can keep doing your current activities safely - there's nothing stopping you. High vis vests, lights, head torches could all still mean that you can carry on running and cycling to your heart's content.
Manage your stress levels.
If you are highly stressed and anxious this change in season will feel like another threat and only cause you to feel even more stressed.
The last thing you need right now is to add that on top. If you haven't dealt with the stress around you then do what you can so that it is one less thing that will drain you of energy. It may be time to get honest with yourself and be proactive to begin to make the changes you need in your life. Find something that you can get under your control again instead of railing at the weather.
Embrace it by reframing.
It's all about perspective. I have friends who just love this season, they love the thought of snuggling into warm blankets with a hot chocolate and a good book. Or cooking beautiful winter foods such as soups and stews.
We've even made a pact together that whatever the weather we shall be going out for a walk - we've begun looking at good waterproofs and nice boots!
Alfred Wainwright — 'There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.'
Manage your body clock
It's natural for you to want to sleep more when it's dark and only be awake when it's light, that's our bodies' natural circadian rhythms. However we're not sitting around the campfire like cavepeople anymore, we have electricity so use it to your advantage. Ensure you keep the lights on longer in the evenings and you may need to switch them on earlier in the mornings too. But by doing this you are signalling to your body that it's time to be awake and alert.
The key to reducing anxiety and stress at any time is acceptance.....right now we need to accept that this change of season is going to happen and instead of railing against it embracing it fully. It's not about pretending everything is OK and having a false sense of optimism. It's about being realistic to what is happening around us and using our creative thought process to think about how we can adapt with it.
After all, at this time of year, even the leaves on the trees let go, and you can't deny that it's a beautiful change. Nature can teach us so much. We have the capacity within us to embrace what is happening, knowing that this is the ebb and flow of life, just like the seasons that change.
Gin Lalli is a Solution Focused Therapist specialising in anxiety, depression, stress and sleep. She is based in Edinburgh, Scotland