With darker mornings and nights drawing in many of us will feel a strong pull to withdraw and hibernate. Indeed, while most of us experience some changes in our mood during the autumn and winter months, the impact and severity varies according to the individual. For some the impact is mild and short lived, while others experience moderate symptoms of low mood. For a significant number of people, symptoms are such that they meet clinical criteria for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of clinical depression that has a seasonal pattern of onset in the autumn or winter lasting until the spring. It is estimated that to 6% of the UK population may have symptoms that would meet the threshold for a clinical diagnosis of SAD.
For many fatigue and a lack of energy are the first signs. Anxiety levels may increase together with patterns of negative thinking. We can feel overwhelmed, become less active and crave sugary and carbohydrate heavy foods. How these symptoms interact and our responses to them can perpetuate our low mood.
It is thought that the reduction in sunlight during the Winter months may result in several biological changes in those that experience symptoms. Although SAD appears to have a biological basis, we also know that our thoughts and behaviours can influence how we feel. We can help break this cycle by recognising the signs and symptoms. Here are some useful ideas that may help:
- Be kind to yourself. Keeping mindful that how we are feeling is our body’s natural response to the changing season.
- Increase exposure to sunlight. Take time out for a brisk walk during your lunch break or sit near a natural light source.
- Eat a colourful, healthy diet. Choosing foods that release energy slowly.
- Seek support. Reach out and access help/support services. This could be via your GP or through an Employee Assistance Programme at work.
At Working Mindset we have developed a practical workshop which addresses the topic of Managing the Winter Blues. Participants will gain a greater understanding of how our mood is affected as we transition to the colder, darker months and take away a comprehensive mental health toolkit to help cope and build resilience.