Five ways to fight the winter blues

Phil Daoust
Photograph: Aleksandar Nakic/Getty Images

Know your enemy

One in five Americans feel some kind of winter blues, according to the psychiatrist Norman Rosenthal, the leading expert on the subject; the figure is even higher in the UK. As well as low spirits, common symptoms include fatigue, a lack of energy, a desire to sleep more, listlessness at work, and craving sweets and pasta. More than 30 years ago, Rosenthal and his colleagues at the US’s National Institute of Mental Health named the most extreme form seasonal affective disorder (Sad).

Don’t get hung up on terms

The only difference between winter blues and Sad is the severity of the effects. “People with the winter blues tend to manage with life’s basic demands, albeit with difficulty,” Rosenthal has written, while those with Sad “suffer setbacks in their relationships and at work as they withdraw from friends and loved ones, as energy flags and concentration falters; and they are significantly unhappier.” The same steps will help with both conditions, although the worst cases may require counselling, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy or antidepressants.

Get more light into your life

Cycling to work, instead of taking the train, can help. Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images

Make the most of every scrap of daylight, perhaps by going for a walk at lunchtime, opening your curtains as wide as they will go from dawn to dusk or replacing your morning train journey with a cycle ride. It may be worth investing in a light box from the likes of Lumie and the Sad Lightbox Company. Rosenthal recommends looking for a box that will put out at least 10,000 lux. There are portable versions.

Watch what you eat

You may find yourself craving pure sugars and white starches, but Rosenthal warns that they will only lead to more cravings. “Low-impact carbs such as unprocessed oats, legumes, almonds and walnuts are better, as are high-protein foods, which help keep sweet cravings down.”

Keep active and entertained

“Socialising is good for your mental health,” says the NHS. “Make an effort to keep in touch with people you care about and accept any invitations you get to social events, even if you only go for a little while.” Exercise can also lift your mood.