5 ways to beat the winter blues

The onset of winter can be a depressing time of year for many people, from mild forms of the blues right through to severe depression caused by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a condition that experts believe relates to the reduced amount of natural light available during the winter months.

Doctors assert that daylight triggers the body to stop producing melatonin, a hormone that makes us feel drowsy so we can sleep at night. But in winter, some people travel straight from the darkness of their home into the artificial light of an office, meaning that the body does not stop producing melatonin, leaving sufferers feeling exhausted. Also, exposure to sunlight boosts serotonin levels, the chemical that makes us feel happy, and during winter the body produces much less serotonin, which can lead to depression.

So one of the best things you can do to avoid SAD is to expose your body to natural light and sunshine. Lift yourself out of the doldrums with these other good-mood-inducing tips and you’ll be a happy winter bunny before you know it.

1. Exercise in daylight hours

Sure, who likes to drag themselves out of bed when it’s dark, dreary and near freezing outside? Not many of us. But once you get dressed and bring your body temperature up after a few minutes of exercise, there’s no better way to start the day. Exercise not only releases mood-lifting endorphins, but also fuels your energy tank and kick-starts your metabolism for the rest of the day. On the weekend, head to the coast and go for a brisk walk on the beach to immerse yourself in the salty air. Hearing the waves crashing and simply being in a warmer locale will enliven your summer sensibilities.

2. Book a holiday

If budget and time allow, book a winter getaway to somewhere warm and sunny – Fiji is only a few hours away from the east coast of Australia, and Bali is about the same distance from Perth. Or organise a ski trip. When you’re exercising outdoors in natural light, where it’s sunny due to the higher altitudes of mountainous regions, it’s hard not to feel good in these “happy” conditions, right? Otherwise, why not make the most of the season and head inland or to the mountains where the cabins are cosy, the open fires are burning and the mood is right for a winter retreat? Exercise your mind by playing a few board games and you’ll come back rested and rejuvenated for the week ahead. Visit Stayz for all kinds of accommodation options around the country.

3. Avoid binge drinking and eating

Although it can seem tempting to stay indoors and drink away the winter blues, it’s worth remembering that alcohol acts as a depressant, and instead of lifting your spirits, it’s likely to make your mood worse, especially when you’re nursing a hangover the next day. Keep your drinking moderate – one or two glasses per session – and your health and spirits won’t suffer.

The same theory applies to eating. Cold weather means comfort food for most of us, but often this winter-warming fare features high levels of saturated fats and processed carbohydrates. Keep portion sizes down and substitute full-fat ingredients for lower-fat options. That way, you won’t feel like you’re denying yourself from enjoying one of the benefits of the winter season. Also, include foods full of complex carbs, such as wholemeal bread, brown rice, fruit and veggies, which will stabilise your blood sugar and energy levels, and keep you feeling fuller for longer.

4. Start a book club

What are some of the best ways to enjoy your time in winter? Reading, chatting with friends and eating winter cuisine – just to name a few. So why not embrace these activities by starting a book club? Choose a theme (thriller, comedy, nonfiction, literature) for each book or leave it open to the group to suggest authors or new releases. Either take turns at friends’ houses to host the night or choose a café or restaurant that suits everyone. Book clubs are fun because they encourage lively discussion and provide an opportunity to expand the breadth of your reading. With a deadline to finish the book marked on the calendar, there’s motivation to make the time to read. And there’s a fun social get-together to look forward to at the end of each book.

5. Take up a hobby or project

Use the winter months to achieve goals you’ve had on your bucket list for ages and just haven’t had the time or motivation to carry out, like taking up a hobby, redecorating your home or working your way through the 100 classic movies of all time. The American Film Institute’s website has many great lists with all kinds of genres to choose from. Make those photo albums you’ve been meaning to put together for the family, or fill your home with the scents of slow-cooked lamb shanks.

The more activity and general interaction you have with people, the greater sense of living you’ll achieve – there’s nothing more depressing than feeling bored or inactive, so get busy and kick those winter blues to the kerb!

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