Recently (pre-lockdown) I went away for a few days of writing in Clare, SA. It was cold and wet, so I spent the majority of my time indoors, rugged up and within close proximity to the heater. The sun occasionally shone through spaces between the moody clouds, but it felt like winter was well and truly around. The weekend provided perfect conditions for writing, a daily walk and venturing out for coffee from time to time!
The winter blues and pandemic fatigue
Winter can be a challenging time of the year; not just because the harsh weather, but also our mood and general sense of well-being can be affected due to the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), commonly called the ‘winter blues’.
It is also the second winter of the pandemic, and many of us may be experiencing prolonged anxiety, emotional fatigue and uncertainty about the future. This is named pandemic fatigue. So I thought now might be good time for a bit of a lift up, and to provide some tips to dealing with the various blues many of us are feeling at this time. I hope you find this blog helpful if the blues are affecting you, or you just want to feel more healthy and positive.
Over the winter months we face shorter days and unforgiving cold and wet weather, meaning we’re more likely seek the indoor comforts rather than spending our time outdoors. This is thought the be the main cause of SAD and as a result, we may find ourselves wanting to sleep for longer, feeling a general sense of lethargy, restlessness and general sense that our mood is lower than usual – in turn contributing to feelings of anxiety and depression.
This in combination with the repercussions of the pandemic (coping with the stressors of prolonged lockdowns, day-to-day restrictions, losses and grief, uncertainty and anxiety) can take heavy toll on our emotional health and wellbeing.
Symptoms of these blues
If you’ve noticed that you’re not feeling your best at the moment, take a moment to reflect if any of the following symptoms relating to the winter blues and/or pandemic-fatigue resonate with you:
- An increase of general worries and anxiety
- Loss of motivation and interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Fatigue and heavy feeling in muscles
- Oversleeping and/or disrupted sleeping patterns
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in sugar and caffeinated beverages
- Weight gain
- Feeling hopeless
- Increased anxiety and/or depression
Ways to reduce the symptoms
Remember that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Spring is not too far away, and the pandemic will ease at some stage. And a key measure to cope with the blues is to take action. Action helps us physically and mentally, and also fosters our sense of hope.
Here are a dozen key ways to take action and tackle the blues right now!
- Exercise regularly e.g. walking, running, yoga, aerobics or weight training.
- When stressed or anxious our breathing can become quicker and shallow. So it can help to regularly focus on your breath – notice the air moving in and out through your nose or mouth, aim to breathe into to the base of your lungs, at a nice slow pace (e.g. in, 2, 3; out, 2, 3).
- Use some vagus nerve ‘hacks’ to feel calmer e.g. splashing cold water on your face, listening to music, exercise and breathing effectively; try ‘box breathing’ (breathe in for 4, holding for 4, breathe out for 4 and hold for 4.)
- Be mindful each day e.g. pay attention on purpose and use your senses when eating delicious food or having a great cup of coffee, or be mindful in the shower of the feel of the hot water on your skin, or practice mindful walking. You can also use the Smiling Mind app, free mindfulness mediations on my website (https://www.drcatehowell.com.au/product-category/audio-files/) or you tube clips like (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wdbbtgf05Ek&t=27s)
- Other relaxation techniques, meditation or self-hypnosis can also help.
- We can work with our thinking to keep things in perspective and to calm ourselves. Our minds are prone to go to the worst possible scenario, the “what ifs”, rather than focusing on more reasonable thinking. An example might be; “I am bound to get sick, I always do!” You can challenge this thought with more helpful thinking such as “I will take all the measures advised to (e.g. hand-washing, staying at home) to keep myself healthy and safe”. You can find out more about managing your thinking via online programs such as Ecouch (https://ecouch.anu.edu.au/new_users/mhl_portal/info), and Black Dog’s My Compass (https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/getting-help/self-help-tools-apps/mycompass)
- There are always some positives to find, even in adversity e.g. having more time to yourself to rest or enjoying activities that you haven’t had time to do in a while. One of the simplest ways to flip your mind into more positive thoughts is to focus on gratitude. Regularly ask yourself; “what are 3 things I am grateful for?” (e.g. sunshine today, my coffee this morning, my dog!). Or focus your mind regularly on happy memories or experiences to tap into good feelings.
- Take amount to reflect on your values and what is important to you in life. Living a life consistent with your values is more meaningful, and helps you to get in touch with your authentic self. Following your passions can bring you joy and satisfaction. Creativity also fosters positivity, so try some creative activities.
- Good social support can act as a buffer against stress, and provide enjoyment and fun. Social supports are key to resilience and positivity. Focus on friends, family and community. Connect with people
- Use humour regularly e.g. have a joke and a laugh, watch a funny movie, and try to see the funny side of a situation. Humour helps us relax and feel more positive. Even a smile has an effect
- Take care of yourself – eat healthy foods (in the main!), drink plenty of water, go easy on the alcohol, have good sleeps and take time out from your regular duties.
- And finally, it is important to be kind and encouraging to yourself – be as understanding to yourself as you would others! And don’t be overly critical of yourself as we all have some bad times or mess up occasionally!
Winter is a time where many of us will experience the blues, and with the pandemic still lingering, it’s certainly a time where we need to take care of ourselves and those closest to us. I hope you have found this blog helpful if the blues are affecting you, or you just want to feel more healthy and positive at this time.
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And if you or someone you know is struggling, reach out to a GP or health professional as it may be necessary to implement some psychological strategies, or possibly introduce some supplements or medication to assist. Or give the Beyondblue Support Service a call on 1300222636. Or in an emergency call Lifeline 131114 or Mental Health Triage Service 131465.
Take care until next time, and now for a hot cup of tea!
20 Habits That Make You Miserable Every Winter. Sarah Amandolare,
Last modified 2015. http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20965961,00.html#cranking-up-the-heat-0
8 Scientifically-Backed Ways to Beat the Winter Blues. Brigitt Hauck. Last modified 2016. https://www.realsimple.com/health/mind-mood/emotional-health/winter-blues
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Mayo Clinic Staff. Last modified 2017. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/basics/treatment/con-20021047
Scientifically-Backed Ways to Beat the Winter Blues, Brigitt Hauck, Last modified 2016, https://www.realsimple.com/health/mind-mood/emotional-health/winter-blues