Got the Winter Blues? How to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder

by Leanne Hall
Posted: May 01, 2017

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You can feel it in the air. The mornings are getting cooler and the days are getting shorter. The ugg boots might even get the dust off at this time of year, writes Clinical Psychologist and Mind and Body Expert, Leanne Hall.

So how does that make you feel? For some, it’s a welcomed change from those hot and humid days and nights. But for others, it marks the beginning of a noticeable downward shift in mood. 

This shift in mood can certainly be quite normal. In fact, it’s extremely common to feel a little flat at the thought of having to trade the sunshine with staying indoors all rugged up. And let’s face it, in Australia our culture is all about enjoying the “outdoors”. 

The fact that for us a “down under” Christmas and our extended holidays are over summer doesn’t help either. Summer is almost synonymous with holidays, beach fun, relaxation and happiness. Of course, none of this helps when you are the type of person who dreads the cooler months. 

But when does a normal shift in mood become something more serious?

Winters brings Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) to girl hunched over at beach

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), otherwise known as Seasonal Depression is a very real illness. It’s not only about feeling flat and crappy, it’s debilitating and all consuming. People who experience this type of depression can experience the following symptoms:

  • They feel depressed and/or anxious most of the time.
  • They experience a loss of interest in most/all activities
  • They withdraw from friends and family.
  • They gain weight (overeating carbohydrates)
  • They feel fatigued most/all of the time.
  • They experience body aches and pains. 

These symptoms significantly impact daily functioning. They make it almost impossible to get out of bed and face the world. 

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What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Keep warm, rug up, drink tea, woolly socks and avoid seasonal depression

In short, we don’t really know. What we do know is it tends to affect people who live further from the equator. In Australia, it’s estimated that around 1 in 300 people experience SAD, most living in the southern states.

So it may come as no surprise that sunshine, specifically Vitamin D is implicated as a causal factor in the development of SAD. Some theories suggest that a lack of Vitamin D in some people has a negative impact on serotonin (feel good hormone) causing a biological imbalance. 

Either way, if you feel debilitated by your depressive symptoms it’s important to talk to your GP or Health Professional (preferably not Dr Google).

So whether you experience symptoms associated with SAD, or just feel generally flat and moody during the cooler months it’s important to know how you can foolproof your mood in preparation for the coming months. 

Here are my top 10 tips to prepare your mood for winter

1.    Expect that you are likely to feel less motivated

If you predict a shift in mood and motivation, then you won’t be caught off guard. What’s more it allows you to plan and prepare.

2.    Weatherproof your exercise

Boot camp at 5:00 AM in winter sucks. OK - so some love it, but honestly, it’s often a good idea to change your exercise routine a little to allow for cold weather and shorter days. 

3.    Always have a plan B

Unpredictable weather means it can be hard to stick to a routine when it comes to exercise and even social outings. Having a backup plan (for example exercising indoors, or heading to the movies) means you won’t have to miss out! 

4.    Create a list of fun things to do

How to beat the winter blues - go on a snow trip or ski trip

Sounds simple, but during all of our complaining about summer leaving us, we can forget that the cooler months can be fun too!

Trail running, winter escapes, open fires, snow trips, remembering that you don’t have to be stuck indoors can create a sense of optimism and a give us something positive to look forward to (besides summer coming back!)

5.    Plan a holiday

Having said that, planning your next summer holiday can be a positive way to focus on getting through times when you know your mood is likely to take a dive. It provides reassurance that you WILL come out the other side!

6.     Make the most of the sun! 

We know that a lack of sunshine can contribute to SAD. Therefore, get outside when the sun is out! Walking outside in the sun for 30 minutes three times a week is all it takes for Vitamin D to do its stuff. 

7.    Modify your eating

When it’s cooler it’s common to crave more “comfort foods”. While it’s not a good idea to allow our mood to determine what we eat all the time, make sure you allow yourself those yummy nurturing foods on a regular basis to ensure you don’t overdo it by bingeing.

For example, trade the fish and salad for a wholesome ragu or minestrone soup. 

8.    PLAN AHEAD! 

How to beat seasonal affective disorder - plan ahead for coffee with friends

When you know the weather is not ideal, be proactive by planning ahead. Schedule a movie or shopping date with a bestie or a cosy night in with your partner. This makes you accountable – and gets you out of the house!

9.    Pick a new do

This one might be more for the ladies, but a change in seasons can be the ideal time to try a new hair-do. Changing your hair colour/style makes a statement and can be empowering when you feel that so many other things (such as the weather!) are outside your control. 

10.    Start a new hobby

If you have ever wanted to try a particular hobby/interest but have never got around to it – plan to start when you know you’ll be feeling flat.

This creates a positive distraction and the sense of achievement will help pull your self-esteem through what can be a difficult time when you feel the effects of depression taking over. 

Beat the winter blues

If the past autumn and winter have been seasons where you just want to hide, remember that this year can be different! 

While some say that the best predictor or future behaviour is past behaviour, you can make a conscious choice for this year to be different by planning ahead and shaking things up a little! 

So start making that “to do” list today!

Feel inspired to help make a difference to people’s lives? Learn what career choices you can make to help people in the community or download a free course guide via the form below.

 

Leanne Hall

Leanne Hall

Leanne has been transforming lives for over 15 years as the mind and body expert for Channel 10 and as a practising clinical psychologist. Leanne Hall motivates her patients to achieve a healthy and well-balanced lifestyle using positive psychology and “mindfulness” techniques, holistic nutrition and exercise. Leanne's expertise covers everything from how the beauty myth impacts women's self-esteem, mental health and fitness.

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