I wish I was a bear, for many reasons, one of which is their ability to hibernate through the winter. How great would it be to just fall unconscious as the days shortened and snooze all the way through to spring time?
It would be absolutely excellent. No slipping around on frozen puddles waiting to catch a bus; no permanently cold nose; no terrifyingly high heating bills. It would be amazing.
But, I’m sad to inform you – we can’t just turn into bears whenever we please. Sorry about that, I don’t make the rules.
We’re going to have to deal with winter and its pathetically short days I’m afraid. But don’t be too blue though; you’re not alone if winter gets you down, and there are a selection of things you can do to lighten the psychological load.
What follows is a short list of scientifically backed ways of relieving the winter doldrums. I’m not peddling them as miracle cures, but it feels good just to have some things to try.
Let’s get going, shall we?:
Brighten Your Environment, Brighten Your Mind
Your brain and body may well be craving the light that it misses during the darker months. Sitting next to a light box for 30 minutes a day can go some way to making up the deficit.
Some researchers have found that a light box can be as effective as antidepressant medication for some individuals, so it’s well worth a try.
It has to be a proper light box though, not just a particularly bright lamp, that won’t work. Light boxes mimic genuine sunlight, tricking your brain into thinking it’s still in a more clement season.
Eat Yourself Happy
Diet influences the way we feel about ourselves in a number of ways. During winter it is tempting to get busy with chocolate and bacon – this may well give an initial high but studies have shown that it actually increases anxiety levels in the long run.
Also, piling on the pounds isn’t going to help your psychological wellbeing if it’s already at a low pass.
It might seem boring, but getting your daily quota of fruit and veg and a varied diet of natural stuff will be much better for your mood levels in the long run.
Of course, Christmas is in winter, so we’re not expecting you to be a saint, but at least try and eat some fruit and veg during the festive season.
Get Yourself A Dawn Simulator
Along similar lines to the light box, a dawn simulator fakes the sun’s influence on our mood. With days shorter and sunrise happening later, people can get pretty bummed out that they are having to wake up in the dark. Their brain is confused.
Your brain naturally trains itself to fit in with the sunrise and sunset. That worked fine as we evolved near the equator in Africa where daylight is pretty much the same every day of the year.
As humanity has moved further north or south from the equator, it’s given our body clocks a run for their money. They can sometimes find it harder to adjust as the nights close in.
That’s where a dawn simulator comes in handy. These light boxes get gradually brighter and wake you up slowly, as would naturally happen at dawn.
Move Your Body
Evidence is slowly mounting that exercise, in general, can help alleviate certain aspects of depression. This goes for seasonal affective disorder and general winter blues, too.
Some studies have found that exercising under bright lights is even better than exercising under normal lights for shifting the black brain fog of winter.
Sadly, when it’s cold, exercising seems like the last thing you want to do. We need to get over it and get out there.
This is wonderfully basic, and it crops up quite a lot in posts about lifting mood. It’s a real no-brainer, but for some reason, when we are down in the dumps, we tend to forget about music’s power over us.
At your lowest ebb, pop on some upbeat bangers. If you fancy a dance – be my guest.
Your favourite track will always give you a kick up the arse if you put it on. It’s got to be worth a try; it’s free, too.
Studies have shown that listening to a good, lively track alleviates your mood immediately, as you would expect, but scientists also found that it lifted people’s mood long after the song had finished.
Music is a Christmas gift that keeps on giving.
Book A Holiday
In the bleak mid winter, it’s pretty difficult to imagine how you are ever going to be warm again. Did I really used to leave the house without a coat and scarf? It seems millions of light years away.
Start thinking about your summer holiday. Start planning it. Just by looking at the brochures and websites, you’ll get in the mood. Holidays are ace, and the simple act of thinking about them puts you in a positive frame of mind.
Have a look through some old holiday photos while you are at it. That’ll give you a boost, I promise.
Help People Who Need It More Than You
Picking up a bleak mood during the winter months can make you lose perspective. If you have a house, a job, friends, family and food, you’re doing OK.
It’s good to remind ourselves that plenty of people have it a lot worse than us. Millions of older folk sit alone and struggle. Millions of people sleep rough in zero degree temperatures.
Getting out to help some of these people, in a soup kitchen for instance, can really help get things in perspective.
Good luck this season, people. Remember, summer will come back around again, I promise.