Comment Editor Emily Chapman discusses the low moods that many experience in the winter months
As the winter months draw in and the days get shorter, we all have a tendency to snuggle up in our dressing gowns, put on some Friends re-runs, and just sit and wait it out until the spring rears its pretty little head. Our immediate connection with winter is the promise of Christmas: comforting films, comforting food and a brief period of festive joy amid what is, for many, a very difficult time of year.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD (also known as winter depression), is a condition that causes persistent low mood and is strongly associated with the winter months due to the decrease in sunlight levels, affecting both melatonin and serotonin production, as well as the shorter days affecting our bodies’ internal clocks. A 2014 study by the Independent estimated that 1 in 3 British adults experience symptoms of SAD in the winter months.
Whether you are diagnosed with, or think you may suffer from SAD or not, autumn and winter can be a fairly stressful time for most of us. Deadlines begin to loom already even though the academic year has just begun and, if you’re like me, your bank balance is looking a little worse for wear after a summer of fun, even after the student loan comes in. For students, adjusting back into university life after the summer break can be a very stressful time, and often leads to us resigning ourselves to our beds in the evenings and at the weekends, trying desperately to spend as little time outside as is humanly possible.
I personally adore autumn and winter; I love the warming spices associated with cooking in colder months, and the reds and yellows and browns of the leaves putting a festive blanket over the world. Needless to say, the Christmas period plays a significant role in my love of winter, but I also try not to put too much emphasis on this. Instead, I try to think of the colder months as an inevitable part of the seasonal cycle, and without the shedding of the leaves in autumn, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the amazing re-birth that is spring.
During the season where people have the tendency to grumble and whine about how cold and grey the world has become, the most important thing to do is to go out and look for the beauty that is left behind by summer. Going for a nice autumnal walk, either by yourself or with some friends, can be a really useful way to both get some fresh air and some much-needed sunlight, as well as some purposeful time away from the stress of our university work. Because of the connection between SAD and the low-light levels in winter, getting as much sun exposure as possible (when the sun actually comes out) is really important for producing serotonin and letting our bodies know that sunlight does still exist in the world. Even cooking using seasonal vegetables, or making a scrapbook celebrating the bright autumnal colours, can help us change our perceptions of the colder months and help us to enjoy them just a bit more. The activities you choose to do don’t even need to be seasonal; starting a new book or a TV series can be a nice way of shifting the world around us into a new season, instead of our summer hobbies and enjoyments merely becoming generally wetter and colder.
The term ‘self-care’ is bandied about quite liberally, but in the winter months, it is both necessary and acceptable to allow our bodies some of the comfort food that it so craves. Especially if you find the winter months difficult anyway, depriving ourselves of the things we enjoy is arguably counter-productive. Obviously, we all have our budgets, but the occasional luxury hot chocolate won’t break the bank, and treating ourselves every now and again, for no particular reason, can really make a difference. Ensuring that we put time into the hobbies and activities that we actually enjoy is something that can be hard at the start of a new term, but as we find ourselves drawn into the gloomy winter months, it’s something that’s so important and pays back in dividends.
These are just a few ways that you can try to appreciate the colder, darker months, however if low moods are significantly affecting your day-to-day life, it’s important to seek help. More information can be found here.