Smart ways to avoid the winter blues

Posted on: 20 January 2015 by 50connect editorial

Read our expert tips to ensure you wake up bright and breezy and free of the winter blues.

beat the winter blues

Bad weather, money woes and wrecked New Year’s resolutions mean that our motivational levels can hit an all-time low at this time of year. “This kind of mood slump can lead to many unhealthy habits,” says GP and medical nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer. “Inactivity, eating too many carbohydrates and feelings of anxiety and stress can all have a negative impact on our health.” And while we can’t always change how we feel or what happens to us, we can change the way we react to it, and with a few smart strategies, we can manage our moods and make sure they don’t affect our quality of life. 


Fight the urge to hibernate by wrapping up warm and going for a walk – spending time outdoors, especially if it’s somewhere green, boosts mood, according to research by mental health charity Mind. “Regular moderate exercise is highly invigorating and energy-giving,” explains GP Dr Hilary Jones. “Good options include dancing (just think of how much weight all those stars of Strictly Come Dancing have lost), swimming, step classes or cycling. All will generate life-giving adrenaline to clear out your mental cobwebs, increase blood flow and reduce stress. They will also release mood-enhancing brain chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin, which help to keep you happy and content.”

Be thankful

Financial worries impact the moods of as many as 30 per cent of people, according to a survey by vitamin and supplement supplier, Healthspan. “Remind yourself that it’s relationships with friends and family, not possessions that bring lasting happiness,” says psychotherapist Sally Brown. “Try doing a gratitude exercise and pinpoint three things you’re grateful for every day for a week. It can shift your focus to what you’ve got rather than what you can’t afford.

Crack a smile

If you’re someone who feels low when it’s cold and grey, try cracking a smile. Dr Uchenna Okoye, says: “ Research has shown that consciously activating your smile muscles lowers the stress response and releases happy chemicals in the brain just as effectively as a spontaneous smile.” Keep smiling, it really will make you feel better.

Get some sleep

Make sure you prioritise quality sleep – we sleep for two hours less than we did in 1960, and it can take its toll on your mood, energy levels and general health. The average amount of sleep needed is seven hours, but everyone is different, with women sleeping about 15 minutes longer, on average, than men. “Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning, including weekends,” suggests GP Dr Roger Henderson. “Avoid eating and drinking alcohol or caffeinated drinks late in the evening and don’t exercise just before going to bed.”

Know your fats

The important omega 3 fats EPA and DHA are essential for mental health, but are sadly lacking in many of our diets. On the other hand, we shouldn’t be eating excessively fried fats and the unnatural fats that have been created by modern food-processing techniques: the hydrogenated fats and trans fats. In addition, an imbalance between our intake of omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids has been linked with depression and other mood disorders. “The ratio of omega 3, found in oily fish such as herring, salmon and sardines, walnuts and ground flaxseeds to omega 6s, found in many margarines and refined vegetable oils, should be around 2:1. Although the UK has no dietary guidelines for omega 3s as such, the American Psychiatric Association recommends eating oily fish at least twice a week and suggests that people with mood disorders take a daily omega 3 supplement,” says Head of Nutrition from Healthspan Rob Hobson.

Express your feelings

Talking things through with a friend or family member can help to lessen the burden of negative thoughts and can sometimes help you to find a solution. Dr Chidi, Director of the European Society of Lifestyle Medicine suggests: “Find a way to express your deepest feelings. Find someone with whom you can be honest about your fears, hopes & desires. If you cannot find someone, write them down. This helps to lower our stress levels, it’s also a great antidote for depression.

NB: Coping ok?

Always see your GP if your low mood lasts more than a few days, or affects your appetite, sleep patterns, sex drive, or your general ability to cope with every day life.

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