So what, if anything, can you do to avoid this lull? There are actually a number of steps you could take, and because we at The Soma Room are launching a new project this week to encourage improved health and happiness by Spring (#SpringIntoLife), we thought we would share some tips on how to keep those winter woes at bay.
Book a massage
Of course we would say that wouldn't we - but science supports us on this point as well. Massage is actually one of the therapies that are advised for those feeling low and even those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). According to the American Massage Therapy Association, there are several proven ways in which massage therapy can counteract physiological mood factors, including;
- Reducing anxiety and depression, with a course of treatments providing benefits similar in magnitude to those of psychotherapy.
- Increasing the neurotransmitters associated with lowering anxiety, and decreasing the hormones associated with increasing anxiety.
- Significantly decreasing heart rate, systolic blood pressure, and diastolic blood pressure.
- Improving mental health by reducing depression in individuals with HIV, lessening anxiety in cancer patients, reducing anxiety and depression in military veterans, and lowering work-related stress for nurses.
It’s true that exercise really is the best medicine, and a daily one-hour walk in the middle of the day could be as helpful as light treatment for coping with the winter blues.
What’s more, according to UK charity The Mental Health Foundation, regular physical activity can increase our self-esteem, as well as reducing stress and anxiety. Exercise also plays a critical role in preventing the development of mental health problems, and in improving the quality of life of the people experiencing them.
The Mental Health Foundation conducted a study asking people to rate their mood immediately after periods of physical activity (for example, going for a walk or doing housework), and periods of inactivity (such as reading a book or watching television). The results were impressive - participants felt more content, more awake and calmer after being physically active compared to after periods of inactivity. They also found that the effect of physical activity on mood was greatest when the mood was initially low.
As children we probably all remember being told to “go outside and play!” if we were feeling a bit grumpy or ‘bored’. One hour later we usually came back inside full of the joys of spring! It works the same way for adults too, but unfortunately we rarely heed our own advice!
Getting outdoors remains one of the best things you can do to improve your mood – even if it is pouring with rain. Being in natural daylight, especially at midday and on brighter days, can help alleviate the symptoms of SAD. And given that Vitamin D deficiency is increasingly associated with depression, the more you get your free dose of 'D' from the sun the better.
I feel immensely lucky to live and work here in Ealing, because we have such an amazing number of green spaces to visit on our doorstep. Some of my favourite places to go outdoors are Walpole Park and Osterley Park, both amazing whatever the weather. And in the working day, myself and my team of therapists all try to take walks in our lunch breaks to stay energised and happy.
No doubt you have your own favourite places to go too, so remember, if you feel a bit low, pull on your boots, hat and gloves and get out there!
You know that feeling you get when you are cold - that you can’t really be bothered to do anything? Well it turns out it really is 'a thing'! Being cold can actually make you depressed and lethargic, but fortunately it’s been shown that staying warm can conversely reduce your feeling of the winter blues by half. So keep warm with hot drinks and food, cosy warm clothes and the central heating set between 18C and 21C and you should feel better. In short, keep warm and your mind and your body will thank you for it!
This is a biggie - food and mood are inexorably linked, as anyone who has every felt ‘hangry’ can tell you! Not only will a healthy diet boost your mood and give you more energy, it will also keep you in good shape too. The trick is to balance your natural craving for comfort carbohydrates (such as pasta and potatoes) with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Fortunately there are so many great online sources of recipe ideas these days that it is easier than ever to do so.
See the light
According to SAD.org.uk “Historically we only ever worked outdoors; two hundred years ago 75% of the population worked outdoors, now less than 10% of the population work in natural outdoor light. Whilst this is fine in the Summer months when there are longer daylight hours, in the Winter months, people tend to go to work in the dark and go home in the dark, and don’t get to enough natural daylight.”
Given this, it is no wonder some of us might benefit from light therapy! Sitting in front of a light box for up to two hours a day can have really positive effects. The idea is to create a simulation of sunlight so that the Melanopsin receptors in the eyes can trigger the required Serotonin release within the brain for natural sleep cycles and general feelings of well-being.
Light boxes give out very bright light at least 10 times stronger than ordinary home and office lighting, and although they are not available on the NHS, they are increasingly reasonable to buy privately.
Get social – in real life!
The cold weather and dark nights can mean that when it gets to the evening, the last thing you want to do is go out and meet friends. So, you cancel your plans and stay in watching TV or browsing online instead.
But if you are ordinarily someone who does like to socialise, this lack of interaction could be a problem. A study of more than 33,000 people published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry in the US found that social isolation puts you at greater risk for mental health problems. So, try to keep your social calendar busy whatever the weather - remember you are doing it for your health!
We hope that these tips have been helpful to you, and that by adopting some of these ideas you will soon feel better. Certainly our hope is that over the next few days and weeks we will all feel the benefits of the coming new season. Spring really is a great time of year to work towards and reap the benefits of a healthier and happier you, so if you are feeling low, try some of these tips above, focus on the future, look after yourself and hopefully soon you'll be ready to greet the new season with open arms, ready to #SpringIntoLife again.
Meantime follow us on Facebook or Twitter for more inspirational tips and advice to become a healthier, happier you by Spring.
Sophie is a fully qualified massage therapist and the founder of The Soma Room - Massage and Bodywork clinic in Ealing. She is an eternal student, sporadic runner and enthusiastic researcher of anything to do with health, bodywork and somatic therapies. To contact her directly, email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are suffering from mental health problems don't be afraid to seek help from your GP or other support groups and organisations available. For example, Mind have a super website packed with information or you can call them on 0300 123 3393.