How to beat the “winter blues”

Photo of a girl sitting by a window with text that says

This article about how to beat the “winter blues” was published by the Great British Mag content team on 4 October, 2019

In the UK the winter months are cold, dark and rainy and the persistent lack of sunlight can make people feel sad, tired and irritable. This is known as seasonal depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD – yes, that really is the abbreviation). Brits sometimes call it the “winter blues” because “feeling blue” is slang for feeling sad.

Although “winter blues” sounds rather cute, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a serious problem for many people. One survey suggests 1 in 3 Brits suffer from it every winter. The lack of sunlight can leave people feeling depressed and tired.

What are the symptoms of the seasonal depression?

Everyone experiences seasonal depression differently. For some it just means feeling a little gloomy; for others it can be debilitating. Some common symptoms are:

  • Feeling tired or experiencing a significant change in sleeping patterns
    An increased appetite, especially for carbs
  • Consistently feeling sad, unmotivated or uninterested in the things you usually enjoy
  • Feeling irritable or restless
  • “Cabin fever” (feeling as though you will go insane if you do not leave the house)

How to beat the winter blues

If you are from a country with a warmer climate and less severe winters then you may have never experienced seasonal depression but do not worry, it is not a permanent condition. It will go away in the spring, when the days start to get longer and sunnier. In the meantime, here are some useful tips to help manage the winter blues.

1) Take vitamin D supplements

Vitamin D is nicknamed “the sunshine vitamin” because sunlight is a major source of it. When we stand out in the sun, we absorb vitamin D through our exposed skin. However, there is not a lot of sunshine in the UK in winter and our winter clothes cover up most of our skin. A lack of vitamin D can make you feel tired so start taking a supplement to boost your levels.

2) Swap out your lightbulbs for ones that simulate daylight

This is another easy fix. You can buy lightbulbs that mimic daylight, rather than artificial light, in most hardware stores. They are relatively cheap, and they will make your living room feel sunny even on a cloudy day. Alternately, you can purchase a “light box” or “SAD lamp,” which emits sunshine-like light. Use it in the mornings; it will help you wake up.

3) Open the curtains

On dark, gloomy days it may be tempting to just close the curtains and wait for spring to come, but this will not help you feel better. Throw open your curtains and get as much natural light into your home as you can. Those lightbulbs we just mentioned are nice, but they’re not as good as the real thing.

4) Get some exercise

If you’re feeling sad or sluggish, hitting the gym might not sound like fun – but trust us, moving around will make you feel better. Exercise releases seratonin and adrenaline in the brain, both of which will boost your mood. Also, a change of scenery never hurts.

5) Stick to a schedule

You may find that you feel very hungry or tired when it is dark. However you do not want to be getting up at 9:00am and going to bed at 4:30pm! Try to stick to regular sleeping and eating schedules and eat a balanced diet.

6) Warm up

It is hard to feel happy when you’re cold and stiff all the time. Make sure you have the right clothes for the British climate – they will keep you warm and dry even on the worst days. Hot showers, warm meals and hot water bottles are all very comforting, too.

7) Socialise

Hanging out with friends or chatting with family will make you feel better if you are feeling a bit “down in the dumps” (i.e. sad). Meet your friends for coffee or go to a movie. Leaving the house and getting a change of scenery works wonders.

8) Go outside

This is probably the hardest thing to do, especially if it is not a nice day out, but trust us: Going outside helps combat seasonal depression. When the weather is bad, we tend to stay inside – but the weather can be bad for days or even weeks in a row, and it’s not healthy to stay indoors that long. Bundle up and take a walk around the block. You don’t have to be outside for very long, and the fresh air will make you feel much better.

9) Take a holiday

One of the best things about the UK is its proximity to warm, sunny countries. If you’re craving some sunshine, hop on a cheap flight to Southern Italy, Greece or even Morocco. Take a quick holiday in January or February to keep your spirits up.

10) Talk to someone

As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, seasonal depression is different for everyone and for some people, it can be debilitating. If you often feel overwhelmed and unhappy then it is time to seek help. Do not be afraid to reach out – your university can help get you the support you need. Read more about the signs of a mental health problem, and how to get support as a student, here.