Seasonal Affective Disorder/ Winter Blues – Support for your mental and physical health over winter

Whilst Winter, like all seasons, brings plenty of things to look forward to, many of us find that some aspects of these months affect us negatively. Dark mornings and evenings, colder temperatures and cravings for comfort aren’t always conducive to optimal physical and mental health. Some people even suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), sometimes referred to as winter depression. Other people may not suffer from the condition fully but may notice some of the symptoms discussed below having a negative effect on their everyday life. This blog highlights some of the ways this coming season can affect our health and wellbeing and discusses ways to help deal with these potential obstacles.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that many people suffer from during the darker, colder winter months. It’s estimated that around 3 in 100 people suffer to the extent of diagnosis, although this number may be higher due to some people not recognising the symptoms and/or not seeking help. SAD will usually begin and end around the same time each year although this may vary based on individual circumstances from year to year and other factors such as the weather. Below are some of the most common symptoms of SAD/ winter blues and some suggestions which may help you to manage them and protect your mental and physical health over the coming months:


Feeling very low and depressed – Typically lasting all day for most of the days during winter. Like other forms of depression, the sufferer may feel associated emotions such as worthlessness, guilt and feeling helpless to change their situation.


Practice gratitude – Focus on what you can appreciate about your life and this time of year. This can be as small or as major as you like but regularly practicing gratitude can help to switch our perspective to look for positives.  On the subject of looking for positives, this doesn’t just apply to things that have already happened- makes sure you plan things to look forward to. This could be anything from a night out to a family lunch to a new book or movie night – the key is that it’s not about what you feel you SHOULD be doing, it’s about what you really WANT to be doing. Some people might seem to be out everyday of the festive period dressed up and with friends whereas you may prefer to be in your pyjamas by 7pm with the curtains shut – both are fine. It’s about whatever helps you feel good and brings you joy.

Keep connected – Socialising is often the last thing we want to do when it’s freezing cold, wet and grey outside and feeling down can further reduce our motivation to interact with other people. However, having a close support network is one of the most important factors for protecting our mental health. Even if it’s a regular chat on the phone or checking in by text with a friend or family member, make sure you’re not isolating yourself with your thoughts too much. Try to be honest about how you’re feeling, but if you don’t want/ feel ready to talk about it, just have a general catch up about what’s going on in life and the world and break your thought pattern for a while. It’s helpful to get out into a new environment to socialise when you can as a change of scenery can be refreshing for our mind and body. Remember to also seek professional support if necessary.

Keeping in touch with friends or family is a key mental health support


SAD sufferers typically experience low energy levels, both physically and mentally. They feel constantly tired during the period they experience symptoms and can find normal, everyday tasks seem exhausting and very difficult to carry out. This could include going to work or school, cleaning the house, exercising and more.


Workout, but have a plan B – I’ve said it many times before in these blogs and I’ll likely say it many times more – exercise really is one of the best things you can do for your energy levels! Not only can it boost blood flow to our muscles and organs (including our brains!) to help make them feel awake and energised, it can also help us to relax and sleep better and so it’s a double win for energy levels! When it comes to Seasonal Affective Disorder, or any other mental health struggles for that matter, I understand that a gruelling, sweaty workout can be the last thing you feel able to do. This is where it’s crucial to remember that fitness should be flexible and should add to our lives and not feel like a chore or a drain. If you usually run or walk, have some at home workouts to hand for when the weather is less desirable. If you usually go to the gym straight after work but know you’ll want to get home straight after, try changing the time you work out. If your usual classes feel like they will drain you, try some lower intensity options like yoga or tai chi. If you need more support with varying your exercise routine contact Mike at Hamers360fitness and remember – nothing in nature stays the same every day of the year and you shouldn’t expect your fitness wants and needs to either.  

Fuel your body well – I’m as excited about Bailey’s hot chocolates and tins of Quality Street as anyone (probably more so than many), but it’s essential that we continue to get some nutritious fuel in our bodies wherever possible. Embrace cravings for warm, comforting foods with soups, stews and other hearty meals but try to include vegetables and lean proteins wherever possible. SAD can also be associated with changes in appetite and naturally if our energy is low we may want to eat more, and/or more calorie-dense foods. Whilst these are fine in moderation, if we want to protect our health as far as possible we should ensure to stick to the usual guidelines of staying hydrated and getting plenty of vitamins and minerals and monitoring portion control (most of the time – It’s nearly Christmas after all!) Eating smaller portions more often can help to maintain energy levels as opposed to big, heavier meals throughout the day and if you need some evidence for this please try and recall how energised (or not!) you feel after Christmas dinner ?

Pace yourself – Many of us find invitations and obligations bombard us as the festive period draws closer. Try to be selective about what you say yes to and consider if you need free time or time to recharge in between commitments. This is different for everyone but it’s a key tactic for avoiding Christmas burnout. With Christmas shopping, preparing dinner, having family round or whatever else you have on your plate, it’s important to plan time and tasks that help you recharge to maintain physical and mental energy levels. If ever you needed permission to spoil yourself – there it is!

Indoor and/or more gentle workouts can be a great option for this time of year


Sleep disturbances – Whilst sleep disturbances can often be associated with the mental aspects of depression, during the winter months it can be related to biological associations with the changing seasons. Much like animals hibernate during these months, we may want to aswell. Lack of sunshine and daylight combined with us not wanting to get outdoors so much can wreak havoc with our body clocks.


Get outside – It really can be like medicine! Any sunlight that may be around can help boost our vitamin D levels and help to regulate our sleep/wake cycle. ‘SAD lamps’ emulate natural daylight for anyone wanting to explore this area further but as an easy solution – get that daylight and fresh air on your skin as often as possible!

Have a wake-up routine – This can be anything that energises you and could include a shower with an energising shower gel, dancing to your favourite tune as soon as your feet hit the floor or doing a quick stretch routine. All of these options help to physically energise the body and mind, and you could also consider adding something into your mornings that feels like a treat. This could be a big mug of your favourite hot drink, a snuggle with your pet or a few minutes to read or listen to music or anything else that actually makes you WANT to get up on time. Because if rainclouds and bats still flying about outside the window doesn’t do it for you, we need to find something that will!

Have a wind-down routine- Just like your morning routine is important to energise you, your evening routine should help you relax and unwind. Simple ideas include a warm shower or bath, limiting screentime, meditation or breathwork and burning relaxing candles or incense. For more information on evening routines check out my previous blog and help to ensure that your sleep is up to scratch in both quality and quantity.

A relaxing evening routine can help to regulate sleep quality and quantity

Last but not least –

Watch out for alcohol – This can have negative effects on lots of the areas covered here including mood, energy and sleep. It can make us more likely to reach for unhealthy foods and can contribute to weight gain. I am definitely not suggesting you give up alcohol but consider having alcohol free days, even offering to drive for some festive events and remember to be aware of it’s effects on your health and wellbeing if that’s something you’d like to prioritise.

Be kind to yourself – If you really do struggle to feel your best at this time of year please don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you ‘should’ be happy and balancing all the plates at once that this period often throws at us. Say no to anything that feels like unmanageable stress or pressure and make sure you prioritise anything that helps to fill up your cup just as much as you do all the other demands. Some people may need to accept that this season won’t be their best for health and wellbeing but avoid an ‘all-or-nothing’ mindset and do consider putting a few steps in place to protect yourself as far as possible. Do what you need to do to stay happy and healthy until you can do what you want to do again (even if that’s afternoon drinking in sun-soaked beer gardens?!) ?

*In severe cases, SAD can also involve thoughts of suicide or self harm. If this is the case it is crucial that you seek support immediately from a loved one or healthcare professional. This blog is intended as self-help advice only and none of these steps should replace medical support or treatment.

Beverley Meakin – Personal Trainer/ Exercise Referral Officer and Complementary Therapist. Instagram @bevs_life