It’s the 21 December, so winter has officially begun – though it’s certainly felt cold for a while already.
It’s normal to feel a bit low or tired during winter. Lots of people find it harder to motivate themselves and get going.
Why some people struggle in winter
Often, people feel low or tired over winter without having a mental health problem.
Sometimes, a lack of energy and enthusiasm can be a sign of depression if low feelings last for a long time or if they’re severe. Depression is a mood disorder that makes people feel down, low, or sad all the time.
Season affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes depending on the season. Some people call it ‘winter depression’ because for most people, their symptoms are worse during winter – but some people have more symptoms in summer and feel better during the winter.
SAD is more severe than the ‘winter blues’ – it has a significant impact on people’s lives because it affects things like sleep, education, and friendships. The Royal College of Psychiatrists says about 3 in every 100 people have significant winter depressions.
We don’t entirely understand why lots of people find winter difficult or why some people experience SAD. Scientists think it might be linked to the fact that we have less exposure to sunlight during autumn and winter because the days are shorter.
It might be that not getting as much sunlight stops the hypothalamus (a part of our brain) from working properly. This might affect our bodies’ production of melatonin (a hormone that makes you feel sleepy) and serotonin (a hormone that affects mood, appetite, and sleep), as well as our body clocks.
What you can do to help yourself
If you’re feeling low or tired, and you’ve noticed a link between the way you feel and the seasons or weather changing, there are some things you can to do help yourself.
It can be difficult to make changes to the way you do things when you’re already feeling low, so it’s important to break things down into manageable steps and speak to yourself kindly.
It’s not that these suggestions are magical cures. You could try looking at it like an experiment – what happens if you try doing some of the things below? Do they help, even if they don’t ‘fix’ everything?
The first thing you could try is getting some sunlight. This might mean opening your blinds and curtains as soon as you get up or trying to spend some time outdoors in natural daylight, for example, by heading outside at lunchtime.
Not everyone enjoys the same ways of moving – but when you find a form of physical activity that you enjoy, it can boost your energy and mood and help you sleep better too. You don’t have to stick to traditional forms of exercise: ice skating, going for a brisk walk instead of catching the bus, or dancing around the room all count!
You could also ‘buddy up’ with friends or family to encourage and motivate each other – there are even apps that you could use to keep track. Some people experience compulsive or addictive feelings around exercise – if you think you’re using exercise or apps in an unhealthy way, it’s a good idea to reach out for help or talk to your GP.
You can also try to get into a regular sleep pattern by going to bed (and getting up) at the same time each day. There are lots of things you can do to help yourself get to sleep at night, including reducing your screen time before bed and writing down any thoughts that are bothering you. Remember that people don’t need more sleep in winter than they do in summer – sleeping too much might even make you feel more tired!
We know that being stressed can affect our energy and mood. Winter can be a stressful time, with end-of-term deadlines and pressure around the festive season too. You can find apps designed to help with stress and mindfulness on the Best For You app library.
Mindfulness is all about paying attention to what’s happening with your feelings and the world around you right now. It can help people to understand themselves more and feel better about the world around them.
Eating a balanced diet with enough starchy carbohydrates and fruit and vegetables can also help your energy levels, which might affect your mood too. If you’re worrying a lot about food, eating, your weight, or the shape of your body, you might find it helpful to read more about anorexia and bulimia, or look at Beat’s website (they’re the UK’s eating disorder charity).
How to get help
If you’re finding the changing seasons or weather difficult, you don’t have to manage on your own. You might want to chat to a friend or family member, check out online support options, or find out how you can speak to someone for help now.
If you think you have SAD and you’re struggling to cope, you should think about speaking to your GP. You don’t have to do this on your own – your parents or carers (or even a friend) can speak to a GP with you. You can find out more about GPs on the government website.
A GP might still recommend that you try some of the lifestyle changes above. They can also help you consider other treatment options.