How to beat the winter blues

Feeing low as the New Year sets in? Here’s how to beat the winter blues and bring a smile to your face…

Come the cold, dark days of January and for many of us a pall of misery descends. The festivities are over, spring seems an age away, we’ve overspent and overeaten at Christmas, and it can feel as if there is nothing to look forward to…

If these feelings are familiar, you’re not alone. As many as one in 20 us are thought to suffer a touch of the winter blues. It’s not as serious as the much more debilitating seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which affects around one in 50 of us and is actually a recognised form of depression, but it can make everything seem drab and colourless nonetheless.

It’s not known why the winter blues drag some of us down more than others, but it may be that some need a lot more light to stay on an even keel. The natural tendency to hibernate on cold winter days as well as resorting to comfort foods may also play a part. But the good news is there are plenty of things we can do to help raise our spirits and restore our smiles.

Beat the winter blues

Come outsideThe health benefits of walking from Liz Earle Wellbeing

In winter, not enough light penetrates the gloom inside our homes, so try to spend at least 30 minutes outside each day, especially if the sun is shining. Research carried out by the mental health charity, Mind, shows that being outdoors in green spaces helps to lift mood – group nature walks may be particularly beneficial – while other studies show that exercising outdoors can help too. The reason? Activity is thought to change the level of the mood-regulating chemical serotonin in the brain, as well as providing a pleasant change of scene. Any exercise will do – the important thing is to choose something you enjoy.

Eat wisely

A healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and a little protein will help us stay a healthy weight as well as control the urge to comfort eat. Warming soups and stews are ideal. Try also to include some oily fish – it contains vitamin D, which we’re short of in winter, healthy omega-3 fats and a host of other nutrients. Avoid artificial stimulants such as caffeine and go for a calm-inducing herbal tea instead (chamomile, vervaine and jasmine are all good options).

Talk about it

Essential oil Liz Earle WellbeingSharing our feelings with friends and family can really help to lighten the load – as can having a good laugh. Research carried out at the Loma Linda University in California showed that levels of endorphins, the body’s own feel good hormones, rose by 27 per cent when people watched a comedy show. Meanwhile, levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, linked with anxiety, went down by a massive 70 per cent.

Go alternative

You may find complementary therapies help, too. Try aromatherapy and massage, which use physical touch to help us feel better emotionally, or meditation and yoga to help to calm anxious feelings. The herbal supplement St John’s wort has also been found in studies to help improve low mood. Always check with your GP before taking this though, as it can interact with other medications you may be taking.

Jump to it

  • Try something new – it helps activate our brain and stops us looking inward
  • Get physical – even a simple shoulder shake at our desk can change how we feel
  • Be essential – pop some essential oils in a burner or drop them into your bath – go for the sunshine oils such as grapefruit, orange and bergamot
  • Take a break – go somewhere different – such as a new tea shop or park – as changing your physical location can help change your perspective on the world
  • Pamper yourself – a small indulgence or a luxury you have been promising yourself can lift your mood
  • Face up – try a new, brighter lipstick shade to literally lift and refresh your look
  • Escape abroad – if you can afford it, book a holiday somewhere warm and sunny for a couple of weeks (house-swaps cut the cost here)
  • Lighten up – invest in a wake-up light to boost energy and wellbeing, try a Lumie Bodyclock Starter 30, from £59.95