7 WAYS TO BEAT THE BLUES THIS WINTER
STORY / DR WENDY VAN ZUIJLEN
Feeling a drop in mood and energy is more common than you think. So what are the best ways to beat the blues this winter?
We all have those ‘blah’ days. Bouts of feeling down, disinterested, or lack of motivation happens to everyone from time to time. In fact, about one in five
women and one in eight men experience some level of depression. Those gloomy days can be the result of a combination of challenging circumstances in your life – such as financial insecurity, unemployment, break-up of a relationship, or loneliness.
But whatever the reason for your low mood is, there is hope. These seven lifestyle changes may help you beat the blues – so sit back, relax and read on.
Sure, it can be difficult to get motivated to exercise when you are feeling blue. But, if you can, then committing to some physical activity may help you lift your mood. For instance, exercise can increase your energy levels, according to a study published in the journal, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.
With more energy, you may feel better. In this study, the researchers asked volunteers to cycle for 20 minutes at moderate or low intensity, three times a week for six weeks. Another group of volunteers did not cycle. They found that the people who exercised felt more energetic than the ones who did not. In fact, their energy levels were 20 per cent higher.
Another benefit of exercise is that it can provide structure to your day. Sydney-based Clinical Psychologist Dr Maria Scoda explained, “This structure can help people who are feeling down to stay within in a daily routine, rather than giving over to the feeling of doing nothing.”
But that’s not all. Doing physical activity can also directly reduce symptoms of depression. Researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that people felt less depressed after following a 12-week exercise program. Even 12 months after they had joined this program they felt much happier. Of
course, cycling or exercise programs are not the only physical activity that may help you beat the blues.
“If you enjoy swimming, yoga or just a walk around the block, then that is what you could do to increase your mood,” UNSW Lecturer and Mental Health Social Worker Dr Josie McSkimming said.
“It is important to choose a physical activity that you actually enjoy, no matter how small.”
Eat a healthy diet
When you are feeling blue, it can be tempting to eat comfort foods that contain a lot of sugar and fat. Instead of making you feel better, these foods may make you feel worse. On the contrary, eating a healthy diet could give your depressed mood a boost.
In an Australian study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, researchers found that eating a healthy diet may help depressed people
feel much better.
This study from Deakin University followed 56 volunteers to investigate the effect of a counselling program that focuses on food. During 12 weeks, nearly half of these people saw a clinical dietician and ate a healthy diet.
This diet consisted of 11 key food groups including: vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, dairy, nuts, fish, red meats, chicken, eggs, and olive oil. The volunteers also reduced their intake of sweets, refined cereals, fried food, processed meats and sugary drinks. The other half of the volunteers did not follow this healthy diet.
After three months, the research team asked them how they felt. Surprisingly, the people who ate the healthy diet said they felt significantly less depressed than before. In fact, ten of these volunteers were no longer depressed.
But, this is not the only study that reported that eating a lot of fruit and vegetables could boost your happiness. Researchers from the University of Queensland found that the more fruit and vegetables people ate, the happier they were.
Get a good night’s sleep
You probably have noticed that sleep can affect your mood. After a restless night, you may feel irritable and vulnerable to stress. Once you get a good night’s sleep, you may feel better, according to a study published in the journal ‘Sleep’.
Researchers in this study followed a group of volunteers who slept only five hours a night for one week. Another group of volunteers slept nine hours.
They found that people who were limited to five hours of sleep had a lower mood. They also reported that when these volunteers had a good night’s sleep the following evening, their mood was significantly improved. If you are suffering from restless nights, then, “you may need to focus on the hour before going to bed. For example, do not look at your electronic device, because the blue light can interrupt melatonin production (this is that hormone that
helps you sleep) in the evening. Try to do calming and quietening activities so that you can actually start to unwind,” Dr McSkimming said.
As well as having a night-time routine, it is important to try not to worry about your sleep. Because sleep is counter-intuitive, the more you worry about it, the less likely you are to sleep, Dr McSkimming explained. Distracting your busy mind through reading, meditation or relaxation techniques when you’re in bed can help, Dr McSkimming said.
Reach out for help
It can be tempting to isolate yourself when you are feeling down. However, this isolation may add another layer to already feeling bad. Dr McSkimming
also pointed out that, “Reaching out to someone who cares about you is probably one of the most helpful things that someone can do. This can be to two or
three people that you trust and who care about your well-being. Being able to be honest and emotionally genuine with these people can help.”
“When you reach out to these people, you could suggest some activity that you could do together. This doesn’t mean that you have to spend every
minute with them. Just going for a walk or dinner together once a week may already help you to feel better,” Dr McSkimming said.
Get into nature
It might not be easy to persuade yourself to get into nature when the temperature drops, but, it may help you fend off the blues. For instance, it may reduce negative thinking and rumination (this is that repetitive cycle of negative thinking that you may experience when you feel down).
Researchers from Stanford University found that people who went for a 90-minute walk through grassland scattered with oak trees and shrubs ruminated less. They also had less activity in their subgenual prefrontal cortex (a part of your brain that is active when you ruminate). Startlingly, the people who walked through a high-traffic urban area did not ruminate less.
Pat a pet
While they cannot replace a human connection, pets can bring companionship into your life. Caring for a pet can give you that sense of being needed. They can also help you feel less isolated.
But wait, there is more. Related to the previous point, pets are also great icebreakers to expand your social network. In a study of 2,692 people, researchers found that about 25 per cent of pet owners had made at least one new friend via their pet. One of the study participants mentioned, “Whenever I head out for my walks out to the park with my dog, I bump into the same people who also walk their dog, and through this, you make friends.”
The research team also found that the dog owners were five times more likely to meet someone new than other pet owners.
Of course owning a pet also comes with responsibilities. For example, you will have to feed it, go for medical check-ups and grooming. If you are not ready for that responsibility, then you could consider volunteering at an animal shelter or as a dog walker.
Different events in your life can leave you feeling down. Sometimes the exact reason is hard to determine. However, if you feel down for two weeks or more, seek professional help.
Talk to your GP or a mental health professional. A mental health professional can help by talking through issues that may cause you to feel depressed.
He or she can also give practical advice to manage your feelings. Plus, if your thoughts are bringing you down, a mental health professional can teach you
how to interpret situations more positively.
Dr McSkimming advised, “Find a mental health professional that you get along with and trust. If you don’t like the first one, then try another one. This does take a bit of courage, but don’t give up. Even though it may take some time, people can and do recover.”