It’s well documented how seasonal changes can affect our mood, with long, dark nights leaving many people feeling low. Of course, if you have any of the signs of depression it’s important to speak to your GP, but for those who are simply out of sorts due to cold, gloomy winter days and wondering how to feel happier, there are plenty of actions you can take.
Getting as much daylight as possible is crucial – whether it’s an early morning run or a lunchtime walk, try to make the most of what little daylight we do get in order to reap its benefits.
According to Dr Clare Bailey, “The daylight works by suppressing the body’s production of melatonin – the hormone that makes you feel sleepy – helping you to feel more alert and energised. Along with increasing levels of serotonin – known as the ‘happy’ chemical – daylight can also improve activity levels, sleep patterns, mood and motivation.”
Dr Becky Spelman, psychologist and clinical director of Private Therapy Clinic, also says that consciously prioritising balance over the different areas of your life is important when tackling the winter blues.
“I call this balance ACEE – achievement, closeness to others, enjoyment and exercise” she explains. “If we tick all the boxes then it tends to mean we have the right balance for boosting our mood.”
In terms of achievements, she stresses that “it doesn’t have to be great huge achievements, just minor tasks that can feel hard at the time but be very satisfying to get done”. If we combine this with socialising – which is in itself enjoyable – and exercise, then we tend have the right balance for a better mood.
“Of course, everyone needs different amounts of these things. Some people need more closeness to others than other people, some people need more mastery of everything or achievement, but if anyone is doing too much of one thing that’s when mood starts to dip” says Dr Spelman.
“For example, if someone is working too much, or if they’re quite inactive or not socialising, that’s when their mood starts to drop off. What we find in the winter months is that people become less active, because it’s harder to do things when it’s dark and people don’t feel like going out. Their schedule changes quite a bit compared to the summer months and that’s when we see an effect in people’s mood.”
Dr Spelman’s advice is to push against the temptation to hibernate and instead “carry out behaviours how we would have acted in brighter months”. While this can sound daunting, if you translate it to wrapping up warm for a walk with a friend, or signing up to a gym that offers fun indoor classes, it seems much more manageable.
“Of course it’s a bit of work – happiness doesn’t just arrive” says Dr Spelman. “It’s something we put effort in to and people often don’t realise is how much control they have over their mood.”