A new study of 2000 adults found that 57 per cent actively look for pick-me-ups when the nights grow longer, and days grow colder to boost mood.
Psychologist Dr Meg Arroll, who is working with Healthspan Vitamin D which commissioned the research, said: “Often small pleasures remind us of pleasant memories, and so act as a mental comfort blanket.
“Cosy socks and jumpers can be particularly soothing and joyous because as young infants we relied on physical touch to bond with our primary caregivers.”
“Finding relief from the ‘permacrisis’ of the last few months and winter can be a particularly challenging time.
“Positive distractions such as watching a favourite movie and spending time with loved ones are both excellent ways of giving yourself a break from chronic, heightened stress.”
Over half of those surveyed (54 per cent) said the reason they looked for a winter pick me up was to boost mood.
A huge 86 per cent of respondents believe it’s important to look after their mental health during the gloomy winter months.
Watching a movie (26%), spending time with family (24%), eating comfort food (23%) and fluffy socks (19%) were comforts people seek to see them through the colder months.
So what you can you do to help support yourself as we roll into the winter? Focus on emotional, interpersonal and social engagement to build winter armour and psychological resilience. Give time to your feelings, communicate with loved ones and reach out to friends. Here are some more ideas to boost mood:
Give yourself permission to switch-off
Give yourself permission to switch off from your worries – when we see other people suffering, we can feel guilty for our blessings, but this type of self-reprimanding rarely helps others. Instead, identify things you can do to ease the burden for others in small ways – this doesn’t necessarily mean financial assistance, as your time and thought are meaningful gifts too. We tend to underestimate the impact of simple gestures, but a listening ear can bring a great deal of comfort in times of need.
If you are experiencing financial hardship yourself it’s just as important to have a break from worries, even more so – set time out each and every day for ‘worry respite’ and do something that’s distracting. This might be playing with your children, grandchildren or pets, going to a local library and getting lost in a story or joining a group. This may not take away the source of your worries, but it will at least give your nervous system a chance to reset.
Give JOY a shot – the new 8-minute workout
Any sort of physical exercise, whether it’s a brisk walk, the gym or yoga, will help to increase serotonin levels, improve energy, and help sleep. However, 31 per cent of adults say they exercise less in winter and four in 10 feel more lethargic than at other times of the year.
“We spend a great deal of time in our own heads, so to prevent winter angst overtaking you, turn the tables and use your body to help your mind,” says Dr Meg. “We tend to focus on how the mind can affect the body in terms of health and wellbeing, but the body can also impact the mind in surprising ways – something called ‘embodied emotion.”
She continues, “I like to use the mnemonic JOY to help remind me of this: Just Open Yourself. Think about how someone looks when they are joyful – their posture and face is generally open. Copy this and see how you feel, think about opening-up your shoulders and chest, your face by lifting your head up and smiling, and you can even throw open your arms and swing them around.”
Ditch the guilt
Let go of guilt by exploring this emotion – over half of the survey respondents said they felt guilty for taking time to look after themselves. Guilt is associated with negative mental health outcomes so it’s important to get to the root of this feeling. Challenge this emotion by asking yourself if you’ve actually done anything wrong. The chances are guilt is driven by expectations – tempering these expectations with kinder and more compassionate internal messages will help to diminish feelings of guilt.
Celebrate winter foods
Dr Meg says: “The survey clearly highlighted how comfort food is going to play a big role this winter with 23% saying this will be their go-to, to help them through the winter months.
“Cost will be an option making meals stretch, cooking powerhouse foods rich in key nutrients. The key here is not to label foods we eat and adapt everyday dishes we enjoy by tweaking them to make them healthier.”
Rob Hobson, Healthspan Head of Nutrition, explains: “It’s no surprise that so many people identified comfort foods as a way of beating winter blues and maintaining their mental health. However, redefining what comfort actually means is important as certain foods can make matters worse.
Forget sugary foods, burgers and take-aways as this source of comfort is short-lived and often laced with guilt. Comfort foods should be comforting, which means nurturing and nourishing you with the key nutrients that will support your health and well-being. Savoury flavours and umami are perfect and can be found in bowl foods like soups, broths, casseroles, stews and curries.”
Vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin
18 per cent of those polled said they take a vitamin D supplement as a pick-me-up during the colder months.
Dr Sarah Brewer, Medical Director at Healthspan says, “Our Vitamin D levels plummet during winter when sunlight is too weak to stimulate its synthesis in our skin. While vitamin D is best known for promoting the absorption of calcium for strong bones and teeth, it also plays an important role in mood regulation. Taking a vitamin D3 supplement helps to replenish falling levels and helps to perk us up and keep us feeling on an even keel throughout the depths of winter.” Try Healthspan’s Vitamin D Gummies (£8.95) which contain the optimum strength of vegan vitamin D3.
Vitamin N – Get out in Nature
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is more than just longing for sunshine, and has similar effects to depression. It can bring irritable feelings, lethargy, as well as craving sugary meals and weight gain. Sunshine does have a positive effect on our mood though.
Less morning and evening sunshine can lead to fluctuating levels of serotonin, linked to mood stability and healthy sleeping patterns. Getting as much natural light as possible during the day can help, with the light shining on the back of the eye reducing the levels of the hormone melatonin. Almost a fifth of those surveyed (19%) still spend time outdoors during winter to help them through the season.
boost mood by planning things to look forward to
Christmas (29%) and seeing loved ones over the holiday season (25%) are what many love about the winter months.
Dr Meg says: “Savour the anticipation – we all need something to look forward to, and research shows that anticipation can help us cope with uncertainty, gives us a grounded sense of hope and also allocates cognitive and emotional resources for future events. Therefore, envelope yourself in Christmas and wintertime anticipation, knowing that this simple act of savouring the future is boosting your mental health.”
Immerse yourself in the season
Finally, not an easy time of year for many people with so much uncertainty and unrest but there are so many amazing things about the colder season.
Dr Meg tips on immersing yourself in the season:
She would recommend focusing on the senses to help you identify what you love about this time of year.
Start with sight – what are the sights in autumn and winter that warm your cockles? Is it the changing colours of the leaves, the hue of winter sun, or the look of a frosty garden?
Then smells – do you like the smell of open fires for instance?
Finish the exercise with the sense of sound, touch and taste to create a 360 vision of your own tailored winter pick-me-ups.
If you found Expert tips to boost mood and help you cope with the ‘permacrisis’ helpful, you’ll find more tips for wellbeing in winter on our Health channel.Tags: boost mood, Meg Arroll Last modified: November 7, 2022