The changing seasons can often bring with them a sense of uncertainty and instability. For some this is entirely manageable, whereas for others it causes a mental shift that can be almost unmanageable. In the midst of stormy weather and an increased focus on ‘family time' as we start to think about Christmas, many individuals can find themselves navigating a complex array of emotions which can be made even more difficult to navigate by the lack of natural light caused by shorter days.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is a condition that affects a significant number of people during the winter months. It is characterised by a pattern of depression that occurs around the same time each year, typically starting in late autumn when the days get shorter and lasting until spring. Typically it would become apparent in October and follow a steady increase in symptoms towards the end of the year. January and February tend to be the months where symptoms are at their worst.
SAD often takes a toll on one's mood and overall well-being with common symptoms including persistent feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating, and even a sense of hopelessness. According to research, SAD affects around 10 million people in the UK alone, which highlights the need for awareness and support.
While it is easy to brush off as simply ‘missing the summer' or not liking this particular time of year, it can also develop into something that can affect your life on a deeper level.
Stress and Anxiety during the winter months
As winter takes hold, it can feel like all the ‘bad' aspects of life rear their heads. Days are shorter, the weather is worse, and money is tight due to higher bills and the demands of the festive season. Reduced sunlight, colder weather, and the thought of Christmas on the horizon can, for many, be substantial triggers for stress and anxiety. The lack of natural light, in particular, can disrupt our circadian rhythms and affect our mood. This is where we often feel the ‘Winter Blues' creeping in.
We often see a decrease in our energy levels and motivation creep in, and even if we don't, it can be hard to be enthusiastic about spending time outdoors when the weather isn't great.
If you suffer with health conditions then the winter can make these worse - the cold can cause joints to become stiff and painful, or worsen breathing problems. It is, therefore, understandable as to why the winter can be a difficult time for many people. Learning to manage your emotions, and developing a ‘toolkit' can be useful if you know that the seasons turning can be something that you struggle with.
Coping Strategies for Combating Winter Stress and Anxiety
A Winter Toolkit for Resilience
Managing winter stress and anxiety is achievable with a proactive approach. Here are some practical strategies that can help:
- Establish a Daily Routine: A structured daily routine can give us some stability and predictability during the darker months. While it can be incredibly tempting to go to bed when the sun sets, sticking to a routine can give you some structure - even when we can't rely on the setting sun as a reliable indicator.
- Consider light Therapy: Using special lamps that can mimic natural sunlight can help to alleviate symptoms of SAD. These can come as standard lamps, special light bulbs or even alarm clocks that mimic the sunrise as you wake up
- Stay active: It might be tempting to spend 4 months living on the sofa wrapped up in a duvet - but wrapping up warm and embracing some physical activity will release endorphins and boost your mood.
- Maintaining a Balanced Diet: Nutrient-rich foods can make a significant difference in your overall well-being. Eating seasonally can help you to embrace the time of year, but equally maintaining a healthy diet is also vital. Make sure you're packing your meals with plenty of colour for a full range of vitamins and minerals!
- Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Meditation and deep breathing can help reduce stress and anxiety. While it's not necessarily a quick fix, taking regular time out for mindfulness can be a great way to help calm anxious minds and learn to regulate your emotions.
The Power of Professional Support
While self-help strategies are valuable, seeking professional help is crucial for those struggling on a regular basis with SAD. A counsellor can provide tailored coping strategies and support when you are struggling, and help you to develop strong habits and strategies when you're finding things easier to aid you when anxiety rears its head.
By understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder, recognising stress and anxiety triggers, and developing practical coping strategies, we can navigate the winter blues with resilience. Seeking the professional help of a counsellor, such as myself, when needed can give you the understanding and tools that you need to feel less overwhelmed, and remember, you are not alone in this journey.