Every Winter I get a cold that wipes me out from around November to March. This is most likely down to the fact that I sometimes forget to take my multivitamins and refuse to take a jacket on a night out. But not only do I battle through a stuffy nose and a cough every Winter, I also find myself sinking into a horrible, dark rut and getting firmly stuck there. According to the NHS, SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a type of depression or low mood that appears in the Winter, often due to low exposure to light affecting a certain part of the brain.
As the days get shorter and a whole lot darker here in the UK, instead of looking forward to festivities and Christmas Markets, I often spend the long nights isolated in my room, feeling inconsolably awful about myself without any real reason why. All usual good habits and hobbies go out the window, and my mental and physical well-being suffer as I start to feel guilty, sluggish and generally joyless. So I’ve decided there has to be a way to stop this, a way to lift my spirits and actually enjoy winter the way I see everyone else enjoying it.
Perhaps the first step here is to bring back some perspective. In the warmer months I’d usually get to the gym at least four times a week, take longer walks with my dog and see friends on nice lunches or cocktail dates. In the winter, however, my gym is a 30 minute, cold, rainy walk away, my dog hates the rain and cocktails with the girls get traded for hot tea in bed alone. So it’s important to extend myself some compassion here and give myself a break. It’s totally okay to not feel like walking through the rain just to get to Tabata Training every week or to not feeling like heading out to a bar in a mini-dress when the temperatures are below freezing. Sometimes, I suppose it feels like there’s a looming pressure to maintain my fitter, healthier summer lifestyle but the fact is sometimes that’s just not possible. And that’s okay. Do what you need to do to feel good, even if that means skipping the gym and eating a homemade Chilli instead.
Food also plays a huge part in my mood too, especially in the winter. It seems like even though I know I need veggies and vitamins to help keep that awful cold and flu away, I have zero motivation to cook anything properly. Where in the summer veggie pastas and paellas are eaten, they get traded in for my two favourite comfort foods in the winter: instant noodles and pizza. This year however, I’ve been swapping the noodles for soup and pizza for warm, fresh bread. It’s just as comforting but the vegetables in the soups are a huge hit of Vitamins A and C which are good for the mind and the body. Cooking is also a great way to get social without having to brave a bar or an overly packed restaurant. Reaching out to friends and partners for a cosy night in making Risotto or Homemade Soup combats feelings of isolation without overwhelming myself.
And where socialising is concerned, it’s become important to me to be honest with my friends and boyfriend about my mood and well-being. If there’s an early understanding of why I might prefer to spend a day wrapped up with hot tea instead of going on a date night to a fancy new cocktail club, there’s less conflict and miscommunication later on. Often during these time periods, I appear distant and moody towards the people I love, and it can be hard to explain that it isn’t anything they’ve done it’s actually… well, the weather. But, reaching out to a close friend or a partner about feeling low or even numb during the winter, sooner rather than later, can nip any misunderstandings in the bud. Once you’ve opened up to someone, they can help you find ways to feel less lonely and socialise in a way you feel happiest.
The biggest and most important thing I’ve found though, is that small acts go a long way. It doesn’t need to be a huge lifestyle change or forcing myself into busy Christmas Markets and parties, it just needs to be small acts of self-love and compassion. Be it making a point to get dressed and take a short walk when I don’t really feel like it, remembering to moisturise with my favourite coco-butter moisturiser or drinking an extra bit of water, it’s all a small way of reminding myself I don’t deserve to be miserable, even if the weather is.
Written by Laura Cowen