Learn how to fight the winter blues and . . . find out what SAD is all about
Author: Nicole McAuliffe Date Posted:17 July 2017
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Ever wondered why your mood changes in Winter? Read more to find out why it does, and most importantly, what you can do about it.
Winter is well and truly here, it is a time of shorter days, less light and darker colder weather. A time when we rug up, rest, reflect and eat warming nutritious foods. However it can also be a time when many of us can feel tired and flat, we can feel a lack of motivation to achieve our goals and find ourselves avoiding social activities.
What is SAD?
According to Swinburne University Professor of Psychology, Greg Murray approximately 1 in 300 of us in Australia suffer from SAD or seasonal affective disorder. SAD is when you feel fine mentally in spring and summer and then feel flat or even depressed in winter. It is classified as a mood disorder that strikes in the same season every year. SAD is usually a bigger problem in countries where winter can be long and the days very short. However in the colder southern parts of Australia, in particular Melbourne, people are diagnosed from mid-autumn to the spring.
What are the causes?
- A disruption in your sleep cycle - circadian rhythms can be affected by light and there is less daylight in winter.
- A change in melatonin production – melatonin is a hormone produced by the brain and controls our wake and sleep cycle, also affected by light.
- A change in serotonin production - serotonin (the happy hormone) is produced in the brain and 95% in the gut, and controls our mood, social behaviour, appetite, sleep and memory.
What are the symptoms?
- Low mood and motivation
- Lack of energy
- Wanting to sleep all the time
- Increase in appetite
- Weight gain
What can we do about it?
Well we could just wait out winter and hibernate like bears, however how realistic is that for us humans?
So if you do think you recognise the symptoms above, and you would like to be actively improving your mood to get through the winter blues, I am going to share some of my top mood boosting activities to keep you motivated throughout winter.
Of course it goes without saying that good whole, nutritious mood food is essential throughout winter to support your mind, gut health and immune system, and you know where you can access all your beautiful organic products.
The 3 M’s Mindfulness, Meditation and Movement are my 3 antidotes.
They can be done simultaneously and separately and they can be powerful mood busters, assist with sleep, and boost the happy hormone, serotonin.
This month I will focus on Mindfulness.
I started my own Mindfulness training a number of years ago and topped it up again this year and although I am a work in progress, I began to see the real benefits of its daily use and use it regularly to improve mood, motivate and build resilience.
According to my mindfulness guru, mindfulness begins when you recognise your tendency to be on auto-pilot and make a commitment to step out of the cycle, to slow down and be more present to your moment by moment experience.
When you are mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them as good or bad.
We can often find ourselves caught up in catastrophic thinking when we are down, however this can make you feel paralysed and unable to move forward with purpose. Instead of getting on the ride of these trains of thoughts, mindfulness allows us to observe the train from a distance, without judgement and then choose what the moment calls us to do. This takes work, however once we identify the patterns and learn strategies, handle our thoughts, then our mood can shift and we can have clarity in how we choose to handle the situation.
Mindfulness allows us to pause when we feel down or uncomfortable and choose an alternative response. It creates spaces in our negative thinking patterns and this awareness allows us to reflect inward to come to a sense of clarity of what is the next best course of action, therefore taking us away from auto-pilot.
Instead of letting the winter blues take control of our lives, mindfulness means living in the moment with awareness and openness to embrace what life has to offer at this time
This could simply mean taking one day at a time, allowing ourselves to slow down and rests as Spring is only around the corner.
Two simple mindfulness techniques
Find a place that is warm and cosy inside, it may your favourite chair, a warm blanket, cushions and a candle, some natural light, with your favourite images and a journal to record your insights. A space where you can have quite time or time to read, reflect or have a cup of tea.
1. Take 5 deep intentional breaths
When you are feeling the winter blues, whether you are in your mindful space or not, breathing is the most simple and effective mindfulness technique. Letting yourself slow down and take in 5 deep belly breaths can switch on your parasympathetic nervous system that conserves energy and facilitates rest, digestion, recuperation and repair. By pausing and taking 5 deep intentional breathes you can slow down and feel more grounded a be in a better state to make decisions to enhance your wellbeing.
2. Mindful eating or drinking exercise
This is one I like to do with my favourite, Pana Chocolate. Tune in with all your senses and slow everything down. Spend 15 to 20 mins, smelling, observing, reading the packaging, opening the package, noticing the sounds and noises, see the chocolate, feel the chocolate and break off once piece slowly, again smell, look and feel. Then finally taste the chocolate, do not chew it just let it slowly move around your mouth and notice its tastes and any feelings that arise. Only when you feel you have discovered everything about that piece of chocolate do you swallow it. Notice how much satisfying it is. This is mindful eating and can help us slow down, be present and can help us eat less.
Winter can bring unique opportunities to slow down and take a long, deep breath. If we let it, it can even bring with it opportunities to work on ourselves and come out the other end healthier, calmer and better adjusted.
Note: Never worry alone. If you feel you need further support, there are a number of great resources at Beyond Blue https://www.beyondblue.org.au/about-us/contact-us
About the Author
NICOLE MCAULIFFE B.Ed. MBA, Dip LC
An executive wellness coach and facilitator with over twenty years experience in the corporate world, Nicole has worked with companies such as Telstra, ANZ, NAB and Westpac, inspiring professionals to ‘be at their best’ during times of change and transition.
An active member of the International Coach Federation (ICF), Nicole has a B.Ed (University of Melbourne) and an MBA (Monash University). Nicole also has a Diploma in Life Coaching, a Certificate IV in Workplace Training and Assessment and is qualified Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) Practitioner.
Nicole is passionate about wellbeing, loves to keep fit, is a foodie and enjoys travelling. She lives and works in Melbourne with her beautiful family.