It’s thought the winter blues, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), affects around 2 million people in the UK. It can affect people of any age, including children.  As a CBT Psychotherapist I have seen the consequences of not dealing with winter blues.  

Why does it happen?

Shorter days, combined with wetter and colder weather, can cause our mood to drop. We’re also facing additional challenges this year – COVID is still here and we’re dealing with the rising cost of living – and this could well have an impact on our frame of mind.  

What are the common symptoms?

Common symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Sleep problems
  • Lethargy
  • Overeating
  • Irritability
  • Feeling down and unsociable

SAD can lead to a change in behaviour, with people becoming less motivated to get out and do things. They might also withdraw from friends and spend less time on self-care. If you stay at home, watch more TV, sleep more, and eat more, you’re likely to feel more sluggish and demotivated as a result – Which in turn leads to your mood dropping. The drop in your mood will make you feel less interested in doing things…you get the idea! 

This can easily become a vicious cycle.  I share with my clients that a healthy emotional life, can be maintained, when there is a balance of activities.  This means ensuring you have a mixture of important, and enjoyable, activities at all times.  


Some helpful tips:


Let in the light.

It’s important to get as much natural light during the day as possible – Even a 15 minute walk at lunchtime can give you a boost.

Eat healthily

A healthy diet will boost your mood, give you more energy and stop you putting on weight over winter. Balance your cravings for carbohydrates, such as pasta and potatoes, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.


Schedule activities to make the most of the daylight 

Whether it’s walking the dog, exercising, or spending time with the family. It’s also a good idea to open blinds and curtains at home and the workplace to allow light in and try to sit near windows.


Challenge your negative thoughts

The basic CBT principle is that how you think affects how you feel and then how you behave. If you’re reluctant to go out during dark evenings, you are likely to be experiencing negative automatic thoughts.  For example: “I will not enjoy the yoga class”.

What would happen if you didn’t listen to that voice, and went out anyway? 

Would you enjoy that yoga class? 

Put it to the test – Go out, then examine how you feel when you return home. Many people feel buoyed up, and glad they pushed themselves.

Challenging your predictions of winter might also help. Capture the negative thoughts you have .

For example: “The next two months are going to be miserable. I won’t be able to cope with the gloom. Nothing good happens in winter!” 

Consider some possible enjoyable events. Perhaps a fun group walk, a trip away, a party or family occasion, Sunday lunches in the pub. When you look back, were things as bad as you expected? If there were some rotten times, how did you cope, and help yourself to get through it? What new activities or ideas could you try this year?


Engage in meaningful activities.

There’s a technique called Behavioural Activation that helps to break the cycle of SAD by increasing our engagement in valued activities, increasing the sense of pleasure and achievement we get from life. In the short term we may feel tired – But we’ll quickly gain greater energy, more motivation and improved mood.

Start by writing a diary of everything you do in a week. Are there any gaps when you’re not doing anything? Are there times you’re juggling too much stuff, and can you delegate any of it?

Next, identify the activities you’ve been neglecting and would like to bring back into your days, and activities you’ve never done before, but want to start. These might include a mix of relaxation, socialisation, exercise, hobbies or learning something new. Schedule them into the chunks of available time you’ve identified or freed up in your diary. There’s no need to fill all the space!


It’s easy for other things to get in the way  

Try and stick to the activity diary as best you can. The five-minute rule is a no pressure way of getting started. Tell yourself you only have to do the activity for five minutes, and if you hate it, you’ll stop. Setting clear goals and visualising the outcome of the activity can also be motivating.


The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends talking treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for SAD, and the mental/emotional problems that it might exacerbate, such as stress, anxiety and depression.


CBT treats SAD with techniques and coping tools tailored to address an individual’s specific symptoms. If you’re feeling particularly low or anxious about winter this New Year, Please contact us at IC Therapies so that we can help you thrive this winter.  

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