16 ways to beat the winter blues

Keep that spring in your step on even the darkest of days with these great ideas for staying sane

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1 Get out in the light

One of the most common reasons for feeling ’blah’ now winter’s here is missing out on exposure to light. Waking up to darkness deprives you of the daylight that kick-starts your brain into producing hormones that make you feel active. The solution? “Get outdoors every day while it’s light for a minimum of 20 minutes,” says Linda Blair, clinical psychologist and author of Straight Talking. “Sunlight triggers chemicals, such as serotonin, in your brain that make you feel better.”

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2 … or turn one on

Want even more light? Then invest in a dawn simulator, which reproduces the gradually rising light levels of a spring day and also aims to copy the atmospheric conditions outside.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, it’s an effective way to help stop seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a more serious form of the winter blues, in its tracks. If you know you’re prone to SAD, try using a light box. It emits a bright light believed to help your brain reproduce a balance of the chemicals it creates in summertime, when we tend to feel happier. To buy or hire one, and for more information about SAD, contact The Seasonal Affective Disorder Association.

3 Eat well

To help balance your mood, make sure you eat regularly and choose the right foods. “To reduce sluggishness, try to keep your blood-sugar levels constant,” says Bridget Aisbitt, nutritionist with the British Nutrition Foundation. Don’t be tempted to skip meals, and get your energy from complex starches. “Go for wholegrain bread and brown rice and pasta rather than the white versions. And try porridge, too. All of these will help keep your mood steady,” advises Bridget.

4 Go bananas!

Next time you’re shopping, buy a bunch of bananas. They contain tryptophan, a substance the body uses to make the happy-hormone serotonin, and also contain vitamin B6 – which helps to regulate your blood sugar level and stabilise your mood.

5 Work up a sweat for endorphins

Exercise is one of life’s great mood boosters. Researchers at the University of Queensland, Australia found that exercise increases levels of serotonin in your brain, while another study at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina found that for some people, regular exercise (even brisk walking) can combat feeling down as effectively as taking some medications.

6 Stick some music on

Listening to songs you love can give you a boost. A study published in the journal of the American Psychological Association monitored the emotions of 32 students in Sweden at various points throughout the day. Researchers found the students felt happy or elated more often when they were listening to music than when they weren’t.

7 Boost your B vitamins

You most likely took it in pregnancy for your growing baby, but folic acid (folate) can also help stop you feeling blue. Without plenty of this wonder-B vit and vitamin B12, your body doesn’t produce enough S-adenosylmethionine (an important mood regulator that boosts levels of the happy-hormone, serotonin, in the brain) – so say researchers at the Harvard Medical School. Great sources of folate include asparagus and green leafy vegetables as well as oranges and beans, while fish and meat (in particular liver, beef, trout and salmon), and fortified cereals contain high levels of vitamin B12.

8 Focus on what’s good

“When you’re in a low cycle, you tend to concentrate on what’s gone wrong rather than what’s good,” says psychologist Linda Blair. “Before you go to bed, write down one good thing that happened to you during the day and stick it to your fridge or pin board. The next day you’ll see that and immediately feel positive about what went right yesterday.”

Check out steps 9-16 to help you to a feel-good mood…

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Flowery scents can pick you up when your feeling down!

9 Get souped up

“If you’re craving stodge, use your desire for warm, filling foods to your advantage and try soups and stews,” says nutritionist Bridget Aisbitt. “They’re wonderfully comforting during the winter months, and rich in nutrients to keep your body functioning well.”

10 Try flower power

Flower essences, such as the traditional Bach remedies, may provide the instant pick-me-up you need. Just add a few drops of essence to a glass of water next time you’re feeling edgy or down.

“Try hornbeam for those days you wake up doubting your ability to face the day’s work, or white chestnut if you want to overcome your worries and trust in a positive outcome,” says Chiswick-based naturopath Nikki Hill. For an even quicker effect, she suggests saying a positive statement at the same time. “Try something like, ‘I feel fantastic and positive with my current situation’.”

11 Rooting for you

“Intake of the mineral selenium in the UK has declined in recent years, and there’s some research linking low levels of this nutrient with mild depression,” says dietician Jane Freeman. Selenium is found in the soil, so Jane recommends including plenty of root vegetables and mushrooms in your diet. So, get roasting those parsnips!

12 Use your nose

Breathing in certain essential oils can help boost your mood. “Try treating yourself to a warming aromatherapy massage, or use burning oils to give your home a soothing atmosphere,” says aromatherapist Lucy Muzlay from London’s Jurlique Day Spa. “Try lavender if you want to relax, or citrus to invigorate.”

13 Breathe it out

“When we feel down, anxiety starts to build up,” says Linda Blair. “Working on your breathing helps you into better physical condition to prevent anxiety, which is often linked to depression. Take three minutes to breathe in slowly through your nose and out through your mouth for a count of four seconds, 30 times.”

14 Get into good habits

“Create and use 10 delicious daily habits,” says life coach and mum Suzy Greaves from The Big Leap Coaching Company. “In the dark days of winter, creating a daily routine will keep you focused, clear and motivated. Commit to doing 10 things each day that make your life feel healthier, happier and invigorated. Pick the things you really want to do, not the things you think you should, and make them your priority, whether it be a candlelit bath after you get in from work or a morning meditation.

15 Break some eggs

Eating foods that are rich in vitamin D could help improve your mood, according to the latest research published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. A new study of older people has found a link between depression and low levels of the vitamin, leading the researchers to conclude that depression could be a consequence of not getting enough of it. One of the best natural sources of vitamin D is sunlight (another good reason to get outside – even if it’s overcast), but good food sources include eggs and oily fish such as mackerel.

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16 Just switch off (for a minute!)

“Have a ‘bath’ of silence,” says life coach Suzy Greaves. “Switch off your phones, find a quiet spot and spend 10 minutes sitting still, focusing on your breathing. When your mind wanders, bring your attention back to your breathing. A 10-minute daily bath of silence is recognised by both modern-day stress experts and ancient spiritual masters as a way to a more peaceful and content life.

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