Learn what the winter blues are and how can you combat them

If the colder months are putting a dampener on your mood, there could be a scientific reason for it
Woman sitting under a blanket on the couch with a warm mugImages: Getty

For some people, winter is a time to enjoy, with crisp outdoor walks and cosy nights bundled up.. However, for others it can start a noticeable mood shift known as the winter blues, or in more serious cases, seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

If that sounds like you, you’re not alone.

“It’s quite common for people to feel a bit lower in mood in winter,” says clinical psychologist Mary Spillane.

Why does it happen?

The exact reason for the winter blues isn’t known, but some scientists believe that shorter and darker days can bring on a change in mood for some people.

“There’s a theory that the seasonal change and the changes in lights actually interrupt our body clock,” explains Mary. “Our body clock helps us sleep, so that can create a disruption in how we function.”

All that extra darkness could also be affecting us in other ways. “There’s a theory that the lack of lights – natural sunlight or bright light – can actually disrupt our hormones.”

And there may also be some simpler explanations for why our emotions shift. “People tend to stay indoors a little bit more during the colder months and connect with people less,” explains Mary. “They might be less inclined to exercise and be more inclined to eat carby foods. Those things can often contribute as well.”

Young woman warming her hands while standing on the street in city during cold weather in winter

What is seasonal affective disorder?

It’s normal to experience a mild case of the winter blues, but for some people, those seasonal shifts can result in SAD, which is caused by the same triggers as the winter blues. The difference is that it impacts our ability to function the way that we normally would.

“If you’re experiencing seasonal affective disorder, there’s some kind of disruption to your functioning,” says Mary. “Perhaps you’re struggling to go to work, or you’re struggling to socialise or do what you need to do. With the winter blues, you’re probably able to do all of those things, but you’re finding it a bit harder or you’re just not feeling quite yourself.”

What can I do?

Mary says that anyone who thinks they might be experiencing SAD should contact a qualified health professional.

“It can be really serious,” she explains. “So going to the GP or seeing a psychologist is really crucial.”

If you have a mild case of the winter blues, consider making a few healthy lifestyle tweaks, such as adding meditation to your day, cutting back on alcohol or sticking to a good schedule.

“Doing things like trying to get outside during daylight hours, exercising, socialising when possible and daily mindfulness can be quite helpful,” Mary adds.

Woman wearing a knitted scarf and beanie in the cold weather

Colds & Flus

Keep winter lurgies at bay with a few simple tips

While colds and flu can feel like an inevitable part of winter, there are some simple lifestyle adjustments we can make to stay fighting fit!

Woman sitting cross-legged with her hands on her diaphragm wearing headphones

Keep your steps up

It’s long been known that regular, moderate-intensity exercise benefits not only your immune system but helps with your overall health and wellbeing.

Stay balanced

Eat well and focus on a balanced diet rich in essential vitamins and nutrients to supercharge your immune system. This includes eating plenty of fruit, veges and healthy fats like those found in oily fish. Staying hydrated and reducing alcohol is also important. If you struggle to drink enough liquid throughout the day, try broths, soups or herbal teas.

Grab some good- quality ZZZs

Focus on optimising your nightly routine by ensuring you avoid screen time before bed, limit daytime naps and that your sleep environment is restful, cool and dark.

Woman blowing her nose

Make time for you

Chronic stress can weaken your immune system, so ensure you find ways to combat it. This could include meditation, listening to music, deep breathing, going for a walk or taking some time out from your regular routine.

Get the jab

The annual influenza vaccine and Covid boosters play an important part in arming your body in preparation for future battles. So, together with lifestyle changes, ensure all your vaccinations are up-to-date so your immune system has a fighting chance of warding off infection.

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