Embracing the Winter Blues

WoWW's Sally Thomson enlightens us with her coping mechanisms for the change in seasons and encourages us to embrace this annual occurrence as we head into winter.

I love the Autumn, as a nip in the early morning and evening air shows that summer is coming to an end and the trees develop their annual blaze of colour. This year, in particular, even the heavy downpours feel welcome after a summer of scorching drought. And yet... there is an aspect of the turning of the seasons that I struggle with, and that’s the creeping in of darkness as the days shorten. In the height of summer it’s so easy to get up early for a pre breakfast run or walk, and to be out and about late into the evening, enjoying time with family and friends, eating al fresco and chatting late into the night watching the stars come out. Then bit by bit, darkness creeps into the mornings and evenings - it’s so much harder to get out of bed, and to be anything other than a sofa sloth after sundown.

Fortunately, I only feel at bit ‘meh’. For many, and you may be one of them, the Winter Blues are a serious mental health issue, appositely named SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). In the UK, daylight hours shrink from about 16 hours and 40 minutes on the longest day to 7 hours and 49 minutes. It’s no wonder that this can cause havoc with our Circadian rhythm, and our production of serotonin and melatonin – hormones that impact on our mood and sleeping patterns. Perhaps we should count ourselves lucky, as countries closer to the Arctic Circle get the shortest winter daylight -  Icelanders in Reykjavik only have 4 hours and eight minutes between sunrise and sunset, for example.

There’s lots of helpful information online about coping with winter blues, for example on www.nhs.uk, and www.mind.org.uk, which include personal stories. But don’t hesitate to seek medical help if you’re experiencing very low moods. Your GP may refer you to a talking therapy, prescribe a light box for some artificial sunlight, or antidepressant medication.

There are also a number of lifestyle measures that can benefit everyone, whether you have SAD, or just feel a bit low. Talking out your feelings is a good start, especially with those close to you who may wonder why  you have become withdrawn, irritable, or have gone off radar. You may find some of your family or friends have experienced similar feelings and can share their coping strategies. At least they will understand why you’re not your summer self. Exercise, especially outdoors in daylight helps raise serotonin levels. Just pulling on some wellies and getting out for a walk will do, especially if there is some green space nearby. I have to confess here I’m a bit of a tree hugger – the older the tree, the better. A friend recommended me to ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ by Peter Wohlleben when I was talking out my winter blues with her. I  was amazed at the complexity and interconnectedness of trees and woodland, and woodland walks have become a much deeper experience for me. Give it a try - hugging optional.

Changing my mind set about winter darkness was my starting point in tackling my blues. I couldn’t escape dark mornings and evenings, but I could look for some positives instead of focussing on the negatives. I turned my thinking on its head, and decided to embrace the turning of the season. I love open fires and scented candles, for example, and curling up with a good book on winter evenings. And binge watching Netflix feels less sinful when it’s dark outside. Try writing your own list of the upside of shorter days, for example: no weeding or lawn mowing; it’s much easier to get the kids to bed when it’s dark outside; the sun doesn’t wake you up at stupid o’clock; its much harder to see dust in candlelight; Sunday roasts trump picnics; leg shaving can be optional with opaque tights. I’ll leave it there – you get the idea. Try comparing lists with a friend, or challenge yourself to keep adding to your own list.

And of course, there’s always Hallowe’en, Black Friday, Bonfire Night, and CHRISTMAS, the ultimate Bacchanalian Feast, to look forward to. Now, where is last year’s card list ...? Must dash – enjoy!

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