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BLOG: Don’t let the winter get you down

24 January 2019


We can all feel a bit down at this time of year. Long dark nights, cold weather and an avalanche of bills can all combine to create the “winter blues”.

Far from being a popular myth, there is scientific evidence that the winter months can affect our mood. Scientists have found a lack of daylight can change hormone levels in the body, which can cause fatigue and the symptoms of depression. Signs that you may be depressed can include a persistent low mood; sleeping more than usual; a lack of motivation; feeling irritable; feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness; low self-esteem; tearfulness; stress or anxiety; and a craving for starchy foods that often causes an increase in weight.

The medical name for “winter depression” is Seasonal Affected Disorder or, very fittingly, SAD. Mental health experts recommend that patients suffering from SAD are treated the same way as those suffering from other types of depression.

Simple measures

So if the winter is seriously getting you down, what can you do about it?

There are some simple measures that have been shown to help people overcome the winter blues. Not surprisingly, one step is try to get more daylight. We can’t all take a winter break to sunnier climes but just by going outside on bright sunny days or sitting by the window has shown to help lift the mood of those suffering from SAD.

Another treatment is light therapy – or phototherapy – which involves sitting in front of a special lamp called a light box. These produce a very bright light to simulate the sunshine that is in short supply during the winter months. Although the evidence supporting the effectiveness of this treatment is inconclusive, some patients have found it to be very beneficial.

Regular exercise is another way to boost your mood. Not only is exercising good for maintaining physical wellbeing, it can improve mental health too. And physical exercise performed outside in daylight is especially beneficial for people suffering from SAD. It is recommended we all take 150 minutes moderate exercise a week, but if you have not been physically active for some time, it is important to gradually build up to this level. Taking a brisk 10-minute walk at lunch time is an excellent way to start, and it will get you out in the open air and help to lift your mood.   

Talking therapies

The cold, gloomy days of winter can worsen the feelings of those whose depression has a deeper underlying cause. How GPs treat this type of patient will vary according to how depressed the patient is. But generally for mild to moderate depression, a psychosocial treatment may be recommended.

Psychosocial treatments are better known as talking therapies and focus on how the brain functions and how we cope with certain situations and interact with others. This approach is available locally through the Bedfordshire Wellbeing Service, a free and confidential service that can offer specialist support in managing and overcoming a range of mental health problems, including SAD. 

People suffering from depression will often isolate themselves from family and friends, reinforcing the feelings of inadequacy and inferiority they have about themselves. Talking to a trained therapist is often the first step to breaking down this isolation, as well as identifying the underlying cause of the patient’s depression.

Talking therapies are more than just the medical version of the old saying “a problem shared is a problem halved”; they go much deeper, helping you explore the links between your thoughts and feelings, physical sensations and behaviours. Negative thoughts can lead to negative feelings, creating a vicious cycle that underpins the difficulties you are experiencing. By talking to a trained therapist you will learn how to identify your negative thoughts and behaviour, and be given advice on how to combat them. The therapies can be delivered through individual or group sessions, as well as over the telephone and online.

Help is just a phone call away

The Bedfordshire Wellbeing Service is for residents of Bedfordshire (Luton has a separate service) who experience depression, anxiety, sadness, extreme shyness, relationship difficulties, obsessive behaviour, phobias and other psychological issues which are restricting their enjoyment of life.

Looking after your mental health is just as important as looking after your physical health. If you are struggling emotionally or mentally during the winter – or at any other time of the year – call the Bedfordshire Wellbeing Service. You don’t need a referral from a GP, so the sooner you call, the sooner you will be on the road to recovery.

For more information about the Bedfordshire Wellbeing Service visit https://bedfordshirewellbeingservice.nhs.uk/ or call 01234 880400.

Rosalind Alban
Associate Clinical Director

Bedfordshire Wellbeing Service

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