How to Avoid the Winter Blues

How do you feel about winter? Do you love it or loathe it? How you experience winter can depend on your attitude towards it. The further North you go, the higher the incidence of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – except that is in the far North in Arctic Norway and Iceland. So why is that? How do they manage to buck the trend? The answer it seems may be in the mind.


In these exceptional and extreme places, inhabitants embrace winter. They accept it and what it brings, and they work with nature, whether it is accepting that they don’t feel like going out after dark or socializing, but prefer to be cosy by the fire at home reading or watching TV, or whether it is going out for a run or a ski after work despite the dark. Playgrounds and ski runs are lit in the evening for those who feel like venturing out. After the clocks changed here, I saw a mother out cycling with her young child, which struck me as both unusual and fun. Both were warmly wrapped up and visible with lights, so why not? When I had dogs, I used to love going out for a walk with them at night in the winter, and would come home with a stiff neck from gazing up at the stars and the moon.


When it is really cold, I just crave warmth, and I clearly remember the bliss of walking into a heated greenhouse on an icy day. It is no coincidence that saunas are so popular in the far North. Winter is definitely the time of year that I most feel like going to a spa, whether as a gift from someone else or as a treat to myself, just to be enveloped in warmth.


Another way of embracing winter that I discovered last year is swimming outdoors – if you can’t beat the cold, join it! I am literally immersed in the season, feeling the water get colder as the winter progresses and then warmer again as spring arrives. You don’t have to go to that extreme to connect to the season; getting outdoors in any way will do that for you. It is at least as important in the winter to get outdoors daily as it is in the summer (preferably in the morning) to keep your internal clock on track. For more about that, see my blog post from last year ‘Why You Feel like Hibernating in Winter’. I can also highly recommend Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s interview with Linda Geddes on the ‘Feel better Live More’ podcast about light exposure.


In traditional Chinese Medicine, winter is a time for rest and stillness, in tune with the dormant plants and hibernating animals. I always want to get up later and go to bed earlier over the winter, so I do. I shift my routine gradually with the shortening day length so as not to shock my internal clock and it seems to work.


So the moral of the story is to appreciate what winter has to offer: frosty mornings and wintry skies, cosiness and sleep, mulled wine and mincepies, snowy walks and so much more.