Winter depression (seasonal affective disorder or SAD) is thought to affect up to one in 15 Brits every year between September and April. Many more of us (about 17%) get a milder form of the condition, known as the winter blues.
- sleep problems
- feeling down and unsociable
According to Sue Pavlovich of the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association (SADA), these 10 tips could help. “Everyone’s affected differently by SAD so what works for one person won’t for another. But there’s usually something that will help, so don’t give up if the first remedy you try doesn’t work. Just keep trying," she says.
1. Keep active
Research has shown that a daily one-hour walk, in the middle of the day, could be as helpful as light treatment for coping with the winter blues. Read more about walking to get fit.
2. Get outside
Go outdoors in natural daylight as much as possible, especially at midday and on bright days. Inside your home, choose pale colours that reflect light from outside, and sit near windows whenever you can.
3. Keep warm
Being cold makes you more depressed. It’s also been shown that staying warm can reduce the winter blues by half. Keep warm with hot drinks and hot food. Wear warm clothes and shoes and aim to keep your home between 18C and 21C (or 64F and 70F degrees). For further information on what you can do, including applying for grants to keep your home warm, read our article on keeping warm and well.
If your symptoms are so bad that you can’t live a normal life, see your GP for medical help.
4. Eat healthily
A healthy diet will boost your mood, give you more energy and stop you putting on weight ove r winter. Balance your craving for carbohydrates, such as pasta and potatoes, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
"Some people tell us that taking extra vitamin D helps," addsPavlovich. Good food sources of vita min D include oily fish and eggs.
5. Lighten up
Light therapy can be effective in up to 85% of diagnosed cases. One way to get light therapy at home in winter is to sit in front of a light box for up to two hours a day.
Light boxes give out very bright light that is at least 10 times stronger than ordinary home and office lighting. They’re not available on the NHS and cost around £100 or more.
"Some people find that using a dawn simulator [a bedside light, connected to an alarm clock, which mimics a sunrise and wakes you up gradually] as well as a light box can enhance the beneficial effect," says Pavlovich
The SADA Information Pack contains full details of recommended light box manufacturers and how to use them.
6. Take up a new hobby
Keeping your mind active with a new interest seems to ward off symptoms of SAD, says Pavlovich. "It could be anything, such as playing bridge, singing, knitting, joining a gym, keeping a journal or writing a blog. The important thing is that you have something to look forward to and concentrate on," she adds.
7. See your friends and family
It’s been shown that socialising is good for your mental health and helps ward off the winter blues. Make an effort to keep in touch with people you care about and accept any invitations you get to social events, even if you only go for a little while. It will really help to lift your spirits.
8. Talk it through
Talking treatments such as counselling, psychotherapy or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you cope with symptoms. See your GP for information on what's available locally on the NHS and privately.
9. Join a support group
Think about joining a support group. Sharing your experience with others who know what it's like to have SAD is very therapeutic and can make your symptoms more bearable.
SADA is the UK’s only registered charity dedicated to seasonal affective disorder. It costs £12 (£7 for concessions) to join and you’ll receive an information pack, regular newsletters, discounts on products such as light boxes and contacts for telephone support.
10. Seek help
If your symptoms are so bad that you can't live a normal life, see your GP for medical help.
Read more about the treatment of seasonal affective disorder.