5 ways to boost your mood during the dark days of winter
Many of us, as adults, feel a sense of dread sneaking in as we notice the days become shorter and the mornings darker. While children seem to bounce around happily in anticipation of Halloween and Christmas, their parents may feel like pulling the duvet over their heads and hibernating until March. That seems like a good idea, right?
People with longterm health conditions can find the autumn and winter particularly oppressive as the prospect of wet, icy pavements, and shorter days can feel like extra barriers to navigate. The idea of shopping can feel like a chore, but the comfort zone of the house soon begins to feel confining and claustrophobic.
Here are a few ways in which you can lift the gloom and boost your winter mood.
Start the day with a plan: Having activities that we look forward to are key in keeping your mood from slumping before you get out of bed. Cognitive therapy techniques emphasise the importance of Mastery and Pleasure – make sure that each day includes an activity that gives you a sense of satisfaction and/or pleasure. It can be something as simple as getting your nails done or playing scrabble or something as complex as making jam or taking an online course.
Connect with others: When you are down, you may feel that you are poor company for others. This may lead you to withdraw or avoid social activities, even with good friends. Research shows that our connections with others play a vital role in our well being. Take a deep breath and pick up the phone or get your coat on and go visit a friend. If you are genuinely feeling too tired to go out, think of someone you care about and trust and invite them over for afternoon tea. Better yet, make or buy something enjoyable to eat that can make the visit feel more special.
Catch those negative thoughts: If you can identify a negative thought, then you have the ability to choose whether to follow it or not. Common negative thoughts include, ‘what’s the point?’, ‘I can’t be bothered’, ‘I’ve nothing to look forward to’. Stop and think about these and then challenge them, e.g. ‘The point is that I will feel better once I have done something I enjoy’, ‘Sitting around the house is not an option! I’ll call a friend and meet them in town’, or ‘I feel gloomy now, but I’ll put on some music and make some chutney for Christmas presents’.
Identify your strengths: It can be surprising to discover that your mood may arise from sheer stubbornness. Waiting for others to read your mind, refusing to consider activities and options when they arise, and going into a blue funk for days because of something that upset you are all signs of stubborn, rigid, thinking. Being resilient, which allows us to bounce back from setbacks, requires flexibility of thinking and an ability to ‘fake it til we make it’. Utilise your strong mindedness by challenging negative beliefs. By giving options a go even if you think they won’t work, you may be surprised to find how much better you feel simply by engaging in a meaningful activity for a while.
Notice when things go well: When we are feeling down, we tend to focus on all of the things that have gone wrong recently, and we play down or forget the times when things went well. Keep a journal or simple diary of your activities over a week or so. Make a brief note or put a star by those activities that turned out to be enjoyable or satisfying. If we start paying attention to the small things that give us a buzz, we discover that they begin to add up and can help us sustain a positive outlook.
Make your own list of ideas that help you boost your mood during the winter months. Plant a few bulbs – literally and figuratively, and discover how a few simple strategies can lighten the gloom!
Dr Annie Hickox
Consultant Clinical Psychologist
Wensleydale Suite, Friarage Hospital, Northallerton