Five ways to beat the winter blues
Updated: Dec 18, 2019
This article was published on Ikea.
Unlike man-flu, the winter blues are very, very real. Seasonal Affective Disorder (with the apt acronym SAD) is caused by shorter days and less sunlight affecting your body’s melatonin production and natural circadian rhythms. A form of depression, SAD’s symptoms include:
Extreme fatigue (hypersomnia)
Over-eating and weight gain
Low energy levels
Seasonal Affective Disorder is therefore something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Its impact will vary depending on where you live – winter in Québec, Canada will (obviously) be very different to winter in Brisbane, Australia. The good news is, however, that there are some key steps you can take to beat the winter blues.
1. Don’t be a vampire
Everyone knows that vampires can’t go out in the daylight. This is one of the reasons they’re so very pale (along with the fact that they’re undead). But just because the days are shorter doesn’t mean that you should behave like a vampire during your working week.
It’s not uncommon in winter for people to leave home in the dark, get to their place of work before sunrise, spend the whole day indoors then leave for home after the sun has set once again. This is very unhealthy for the reasons outlined above; not seeing the sun at all will deprive your body of melatonin and impact its circadian rhythms.
The solution is to grab some time in the sun (even if it’s weak and wintery daylight) whenever you get the chance. Weather permitting, you could:
Put on your warmest coat and have your lunch in the park rather than in a café.
Go for a brisk walk around the block during your breaks.
Suggest to others that you have a “walking meeting” outside rather than in the office.
If possible, work near a window with plenty of natural light.
Of course, there are some places where the sun rises for only a very brief period in winter or does not rise at all. In these cases, people need to maintain their bodies’ balance with remedies such as vitamin D supplements or even specialised lighting to simulate daylight.
2. Stay active
Many of the symptoms of SAD can cause people to become less active. Fatigue, low motivation and low energy levels may lead you to reduce your usual active lifestyle over winter with the intention of picking it up again in the spring. Unfortunately, this will only make your symptoms worse. Stay active by:
Walking some of the way to work (weather permitting)
Continuing to exercise outdoors (also weather permitting!) to get the added benefit of daylight.
Exercising in a gym if it’s too cold to do so outside.
Taking up a winter sport.
Keeping active around the workplace by using standing desks, having walking meetings or visiting colleagues at their desks instead of emailing.
3. Eat healthily
Like many of our cousins in the animal world, humans tend to gain weight over winter. This is only natural, but it still isn’t an excuse to eat poorly during the colder months. Keep in mind that overeating is a symptom of Seasonal Affective Disorder and do your best to maintain a balanced diet. This means trying to resist comfort food such as hot chips, and eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Embrace the seasonal nature of fresh food by feasting on delicious kale, leeks, spinach, parsnips, chard and more.
4. Get some fresh air
We’ve written above about the importance of giving your body daylight wherever possible. The same thing applies in terms of getting plenty of fresh air. It sounds crazy, but people who drive straight from their garage at home to the staff carpark at work sometimes never breathe air that hasn’t come through the office or car air vents. Fresh air is good for you because it helps improve blood pressure and heart rate, makes you happier, strengthens your immune system, cleans your lungs and gives you more energy.
The same advice applies as above – put on a warm coat and get outside wherever possible [HB2] to gulp down some fresh air … even if that air is uncomfortably cold. One extra point to add is that the benefits above are best gained from breathing air near trees and plants – so make sure you walk to the local park rather than breathing the air in your local carpark.
5. Embrace the season
There’s nothing more exhausting than fighting a battle that you can’t win. You can’t beat winter, so the alternative is to embrace it instead. This means looking forward to the joys of the first snow of the season, crackling fires, thick woollen socks, warm drinks and a feeling of coziness (or Hygge as they call it in Denmark and Norway).
Some things that may help you embrace (rather than endure) winter are:
Seasonal food – winter meals are really something to look forward to, along with hearty soups, mulled wine, and seasonal vegetables.
Join in with winter sports such as ice hockey, cross-country skiing, ice skating or any team sport that is typically played in the colder months.
Special days – winter months are packed with special days celebrated around the world, from Winter Solstice, to Hogmany, to Thanksgiving and (of course) Christmas in the northern hemisphere.
In summary, you certainly are not the only person in the world who suffers from the winter blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder. But you can mitigate its effects by getting as much daylight as possible, staying active, eating healthily, getting plenty of fresh air and embracing the things that make winter a season to be enjoyed rather than dreaded.
An important note …
Still SAD? It would be remiss of us if we didn’t advise anyone suffering from significant depression or anxiety to seek help from a doctor or your local mental health services. A good place to start may be to let your line manager know about your situation so they can understand and support you as you seek treatment options.