Special thanks to Megan Gamble, founder of #Me and passionate supporter of student mental health for guest authoring this article.
The phrase ‘winter blues’ is often thrown around but what does it actually mean?
Typically, it describes having a persistently low mood, fluctuations in appetite, irritability or despair, as well as heavy sleeping, usually peaking in the early months of each year, January and February. It can also be referred to as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), referring to a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern. Around 2 million people in the UK, and 12 million across northern Europe, are thought to experience the ‘winter blues’ (NHS).
Added to that, we know that the last 18 months in particular have been tough on students' well-being and, for many, their mental health has suffered. But, fear not, there are ways to minimise and combat these feelings!
We’ve asked our friends at #Me to share with us some practical advice on how to beat the winter blues and boost students' mental well-being over this season.
You probably hear this advice all the time but over these Winter months, it’s even more important to do and can make a big difference to your mental health and overall well-being. Try to avoid excessively eating carbohydrates, such as pasta and potatoes, and instead, incorporate fresh fruit and vegetables into your daily diet. It can help to plan your meals for each week and to shop with a list to avoid impulse buying or overspending. Remember to factor in healthy snacks and some treats too, within moderation.
Try to have a few healthy frozen meals at the ready too for days where you don’t fancy cooking or that are more hectic as this will help you avoid the takeaway menu or an unhealthy alternative. Vitamin D (found in foods such as oranges and fish) is known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ and is especially helpful to incorporate into your diet over the Winter months for several benefits which the healthline provides here.
As well as your diet, it’s important to try to stay active during these winter months. Anything that increases your heart rate and gets your body moving is beneficial. Whether that’s indoors or outdoors, there is plenty to choose from, including exercise apps, online workouts, dance routines, walking trails… and if you can absorb natural daylight when undertaking your activity, it will be even more beneficial as daylight not only boosts our vitamin D but it also helps us to sleep better and boosts our productivity when working as was found by this
With the days being shorter and colder, it can be tempting to shut yourself away but regularly doing this only leads to loneliness and increases your winter blues. So it’s important to proactively reach out to your network and make plans. Whether you do an activity together, sit around chatting, play games, watch a movie or go out for food, it’s important to schedule in time with people who make you happy. According to psychologists, this quality time spent others will lessen feelings of depression and instead, increase your self-esteem and promote a sense of worth and confidence.
If you’re unable to meet up in person due to distance, isolation or extreme weather conditions, why not rekindle the virtual quiz nights, playstation or xbox multiplayer mode, or bake along Facetimes that kept us going through the many lockdowns? And, remember to share how you’re feeling with your friends and family too as it’s likely you’re not the only one.
Staying warm can reduce the winter blues by half so try snuggling up under a blanket, by a warm fire (even if it’s a Netflix one!) and your favourite hot drink or warm meal whilst listening to some music, a podcast or an audio book. You could even light a scented candle to further engage your senses. Not only will this help to combat the winter blues, it’s also a great way to unwind after a long day or to enjoy a chilly Sunday afternoon.
Perhaps you can even ask a friend or neighbour to look after their furry pet for a few hours as
studies show that cuddling and interacting with an animal such as a dog will increase both the animal and your levels of oxytocin, a ‘love hormone’ chemical that stimulates the feelings of happiness and love. It also has a calming effect on your mind and body, helping you to focus on and enjoy the present moment.
Every small act of kindness has the potential to change someone’s life and make the world a better place. Not only does it help you to have a more grateful and optimistic mindset, it also boosts your feelings of confidence and being in control.
So if you’re creative or enjoy writing, why not craft some cards which you can send to others? Or if you’re not artistic, perhaps you can bake a few treats instead which you can take to a friend whilst out on a winter's walk. Even a quick text message check-in with someone can go a long way in helping them to know they are valued and loved. These activities will not only spread kindness and joy, it also focuses and calms your mind, boosting your overall mood.
Although the thought of making future plans right now can seem challenging with the uncertainty that Covid brings, thinking ahead and considering your next adventure is still likely to improve your mood and mindset as according to research, many people who enjoy travelling find the anticipation of the holiday brings more happiness than the trip itself.
It will also help you to remember that this is just a season… it leads to spring which leads to summer. Although there will be long days, dark days and cold days, there will also be days full of light and beauty. So try to embrace and (dare we say) enjoy the crisp, frosty mornings whilst we have them, but also plan things you can look forward to as the seasons change.
Further information and advice can be found on the NHS website.