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The long summer is now a distant memory, and winter is well and truly here.

Along with bringing a nip in the air, winter can also affect how we feel emotionally.

Even though Australia doesn’t experience the harsh winters of some northern hemisphere countries, it’s not uncommon for winter to trigger a mood change or the ‘winter blues’.

“As the season begins to change, people can find it difficult to wake up in the mornings. They feel more lethargic or crave carbohydrate-rich, fatty foods,” explains Swinburne Professor of Psychology Greg Murray. “People report an overall lowered mood and energy levels in winter compared to the warmer months.

Follow these three steps to help you escape the winter blues:

  1. Stay connected. Being connected to others helps our mental and physical wellbeing, says Beyond Blue, helping to protect us against anxiety and depression. Schedule in regular physical or virtual catch-ups with friends and family, commitments that you can’t easily get out of when the couch seems a more inviting option.
  2. Get outside every day. Even if the sun isn’t shining, being outdoors can boost your mood. Aim to be outside for at least one hour each day if you can, recommends Professor Murray. If possible, make some of that time in a natural setting, such as a park. Research has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety and depression.
  3. Keep active. Exercise is a known antidote to low mood. If the weather is preventing you from exercising outdoors, consider doing online workouts to keep you motivated.

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For some of us the winter blues can turn into something more serious.

According to Beyond Blue, Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is feeling very, very bleak during winter. Symptoms mimic depression – feeling hopeless, lacking energy, changes in sleeping or eating patterns and a loss of pleasure in things you might enjoy. You may also feel heavy in your limbs, might want to sleep all the time, and start to crave carbs.

SAD is thought to be related to the lack of sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days. Grant Glashki, Beyond Blue’s lead clinical adviser, says the main theory is that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly.

SAD is rare in Australia, affecting about one in 300 of us. It is more likely to be found in countries with longer periods of darkness, such as in the cold climate areas of the Northern Hemisphere.

If you are feeling depressed for any reason, it’s important to seek professional help. Start with your GP who can refer you to a mental health practitioner for support.

This article was previously published in the Well at Work Newsletter


Author Healthworks

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