Looking after your mental health throughout the winter

a profile photo of Carly Francis
Onsite Mental Health Therapist for Bupa Clinics
15 October 2020

The change in seasons can be quite a challenge for some people. You may be excited at the thought of carving pumpkins for Halloween or drinking hot chocolate in front of a nice warm fire as the nights get darker and colder. But the prospect of winter could leave you feeling less than positive. In a ‘normal’ year, the change in seasons can bring about a change in mood. This year, in the shadow of a global pandemic, looking after your mental health as we head into winter feels more important than ever.

Why might my mood feel lower as the season changes, especially this year?

There are lot of reasons why your mood may be low at this time of year. These can be both mental and physical.

1. Change can be hard to manage

Whether you experience a predictable change like a new season, or an unpredictable change like a global pandemic, you may feel worried and anxious. This is because with change comes uncertainty.

This year, you’ve probably already had to endure a great deal of change in how you live your life. The prospect of yet more change can be a lot for your mind and body to cope with.

2. Change can create a feeling of loss

Any change (positive or negative) can cause stress and is typically associated with the loss of something. For example, in moving into the autumn you’re losing the longer daylight hours. In changing your job – whilst excited about a new opportunity – you may be losing connections with much valued friends and colleagues.

This year we have endured the change and loss of so many things; fun, routine, stability, control, and for some, the loss of loved ones. This has all required us to change and adapt, and it’s not surprising that the prospect of more change, albeit seasonal change, could impact your mood.

3. Physical changes

The changes experienced during autumn and winter, such as the change in temperature and fewer hours of sunlight can impact on your mood. It’s suggested that the shorter daylight hours can disrupt your body’s internal clock, impacting on the production of serotonin and melatonin. These are hormones which are important in regulating your body’s internal function and mood.

What can I do to help manage my mental health in autumn and winter?

Recognising the signs of winter depression

If you recognise any of the following signs, it may be worth considering taking some action in order to help bring some balance back to your mood.

  • Having low energy.
  • Finding it difficult to concentrate.
  • Not wanting to speak, see or spend time with others.
  • Changes in appetite (often feeling more hungry than usual, or wanting snacks is linked to seasonal low mood).
  • Feeling sad or low, or becoming more tearful than usual.
  • Being more likely to get physical health problems, such as having a cold.
  • Loss of interest in things.
  • Suicidal feelings or thoughts.

Acknowledge that change is inevitable

The one thing we can be certain of in life is that we will experience change, and so trying to fight or safeguard against it can at times can be exhausting. This can sometimes stop you from being able to accept and cope with change. So, learning to accept change can often be more positive for your mental health, and can help you to deal with it more proactively.

Set and keep to a schedule as much as possible

The more change that’s happening, the more important it can become to stick to a regular routine. Having some things that are predictable in your day or week can create a sense of safety, and can make you feel more in control. Planning activities that make you feel happy, connected to others and a sense of achievement into your days can help to boost your mood.

Make the most of the daylight

Exposure to light is so important during the shorter daylight hours and has be shown to improve symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Be creative with how you get more light. You could try brightening up your home environment by opening curtains and blinds, making a conscious effort to let in as much sunlight as possible. Or getting outside when you can by scheduling time during your day.

Get proactive

Take charge of what you’re experiencing either to prevent things from getting worse, or from happening in the first place. Be proactive with your exercise and diet by ensuring you make time for physical activity and for eating well. Exercise is known to decrease symptoms of depression and this doesn’t have to mean going out on a two-hour run. Simply walking around the block can help.

Being proactive with your diet is a good idea. When you feel low, you’re more likely to crave comforting foods that help to boost serotonin (which is lower during winter for some of us). Eating a healthy balanced diet can help to keep you feeling good.

If you’re not sure what to do that might boost your mood and mental health, it can sometimes help to keep a journal (either on paper or using an app on your phone). Through journaling, you can pick up on any patterns emerging in regard to what makes you feel better, and what makes you feel worse.

Be kind to yourself and normalise what you are experiencing

It is normal to experience a change of mood when things in life change. We have all had an abundance of change this year. But remember, it’s how we respond to these changes that can make a difference. Try to go easy on yourself and show yourself the same kindness and compassion as you would to others.

Seek support

If you consider your symptoms to have persisted for too long, or if you are finding it hard to manage or cope on your own. Speak to your friends, family or GP. Or of you don’t feel comfortable, you can visit the Mind website for more information or call the Samaritans helpline (116 123) in confidence.

If you’re worried about your mental health, our direct access service aims to provide you with the advice, support and treatment you need as quickly as possible. If you’re covered by your health insurance, you’ll be able to get mental health advice and support usually without the need for a GP referral. Learn more today.

a profile photo of Carly Francis
Carly Francis
Onsite Mental Health Therapist for Bupa Clinics

    • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Mind., published February 2019
    • Seasonal affective disorder. BMJ Best Practice., last reviewed September 2020

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