How to

17 June 2016

Winter Depression – What it is and How to Deal With It

Winter depression, sometimes referred to as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a very real, sometimes serious condition. In the most extreme cases, it can lead to anxiety, withdrawal, weight loss and in some tragic cases, suicide. I’m not saying that there’s a pronounced danger of getting that far-gone, but have you ever noticed your mood lowering during the winter months? Well, winter depression may well have something to do with it.

Unlike clinical depression or bipolar disorder, which are both either endemic or brought on by trauma, SAD is supposedly caused by low light levels altering the amount of melatonin our brains produce, so in that sense it could affect anyone, at any time. The low light has a second, more noticeable effect which also contributes – it keeps you indoors. The shorter days, dimmer skies and colder weather all mix together into a kind of agoraphobic cocktail, sapping the desire to remain active. Unsurprisingly, then, the first step to coping with the winter blues is to…

Keep Active

It may seem difficult, but during the winter one of the best things you can do to maintain a positive outlook is to get outside as much as possible. Some choose to go on holiday, but that can leave you feeling even worse once you get back. Even an hour of walking every day can have an uplifting effect, but beyond that, being more socially active is also helpful, so it’s worth trying to amalgamate the two. In some cases, people get light therapy, which involves sitting beneath a bright light for certain period of time. It might sound like it lives in holistic territory, but it’s clinically proven to do the job in many cases, so if nothing else is working, consider it, and talk to your GP.

Find a Way to Vent

When I started having depressive episodes in my late teens, I was advised to keep a diary. I completely ignored that advice at the time, brushing it off as a silly, ineffectual remedy to a much larger problem. Having since recanted that dismissal, I can tell you that while it won’t lift you free of the dismalness, it still really helps. It needn’t necessarily be a diary, it could be a blog, an agony aunt, an angry dome, just anywhere, anything or anyone you can use to dump out all the dark thoughts that have been preying on your mind. It also provides you with an outlet, and after a while you might find yourself really refining your approach, making it thematic or poetic or whatever else seems to fit, but regardless of how you do it, you’ll feel lighter for each new emotional dump.

Improve Your Diet

The variety of food on offer diminishes during the winter months, and it can be tempted to slip into a comfort zone of fats, sugars and carbs, or it can happen without you even noticing. Making an active effort to bolster your diet with more fruit and veg can be huge help. Certain foods can even pick your serotonin levels up all by themselves, lentils for example. Paying closer attention to your diet will also directly affect your energy levels.

Listen to More Music

In 2013, the University of Missouri conducted a study which showed that, over a two week period, people who listened to positive, happy music did actually experience a lift in mood. This is a basic example of the wilful mood elevation approach. Simply put – trying to be happier will make you happier. Upbeat music is one of the easiest ways to do this, and it can actually contribute to long term mood as well if you make a habit of it.

Use a Dawn Simulator

One of the most reliable things we use to wake up is the sun itself. Morning light is a very gentle, energising alarm clock, but we don’t play by the sun’s rules anymore, and during the winter many of us have to start getting up before it rises. You can’t understate the significance of this. Not only will you feel lower in the mornings, but you’ll likely have a harder time getting out of bed at all. A dawn simulator has been proven to help with this, as it sends out a light which gradually brightens your room the nearer you get to actually having to wake up.

Exercise More

We’ve talked about keeping active, being sociable and going outdoors, but even half an hour of exercise a day, whatever it might be, will also be beneficial. Symptoms of depression have been shown to improve with more regular exercise in any case, but if you do it in winter, particularly under a bright light, it can be even better. Cycling, yoga, Pilates and weight training are all particularly helpful. 

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.