According to the NHS, some 2 million people are affected by low mood in the UK during the winter months. Whether this is due to seasonal affective disorder, or worsening symptoms of depression, it seems that January is one of the hardest months for coping with feelings of low mood and depression.

What causes us to feel worse in winter?

The winter months bring shorter days and a lack of sunlight, and both have an impact on the production of Serotonin in the body.  Serotonin is a brain chemical, which helps to move messages through the body, helping regulate mood, appetite and sleep patterns, amongst other things.  So, Serotonin does a pretty important job and it’s no wonder many of us are affected when there is a lack of it in our bodies.

6 Antidotes to beat the winter blues

The good news is, there are some quick and easy ways for you to increase the production of serotonin in your body yourself, and get those happy hormones back in balance: 

  1. Seek out natural light – Many of us work in offices which are flooded with light from overhead LED’s to fluorescent tubes, not to mention the backlights from computer screens and mobile devices. The problem with this type of light is that it is all man-made.  Our bodies need natural light!  The UV rays in sunlight produce Vitamin D, which promote serotonin production.  Try and work in a 30-minute walk during the day, when the light is at it’s brightest.  And, remember that bright lights at night can impact melatonin levels, the stuff that’s needed for a good night’s sleep.  Try and turn of your mobile devices an hour before bed, and see the impact it has on your sleep patterns.
  2. Don’t underestimate the Food-Mood connection – Whilst you can’t get serotonin from food, studies have shown that some foods can boost the intake of certain amino acids, which are used to make serotonin. Try to include foods such as brazil nuts, oily fish like salmon and mackerel, lentils, proteins such as lean chicken and turkey, spinach and broccoli.  Try and avoid too much coffee, sugar and alcohol, they will all will give you an immediate high but leave you feeling irritable, moody and leave you with a slump in energy levels.
  3. Get some exercise daily – Aerobic exercise increases brain serotonin function in humans and hence improves our mood. If you’re not a keen gym goer, try a short bike ride, challenge yourself to run a mile, or get involved in a local bootcamp. If your busy schedule means you don’t have much time, try and take yourself out for a brisk 30-minute walk in the fresh air, every day.  Connecting with nature and the natural light will have an antidepressant effect.
  4. Meet up with a friend for tea – Many of us choose to isolate ourselves when we’re feeling low, spending our time socialising from our sofa’s through digital technology. Face to face connection trumps all other forms of contact and can actually reduce the risks of depression.  Strong social bonds can really strengthen mental health so make it a priority to see some familiar faces, every week.
  5. Talking therapies – Some individuals find it difficult to talk about how they feel with friends or family members, and this is when talking therapies can really help. Talking through your thoughts and feelings with a trained therapist gives you an opportunity to really understand what is going on for you, and find some ways of coping.
  6. Develop your sense of purpose – studies have shown that taking part in an honourable mission is a strong antidote to feelings of depression. Whether you fancy getting involved in a charity event, or helping a friend in need, having that true sense of purpose will really help you to feel happier.