RCPsych Wales - Top tips for your mental health as clocks go back
03 November, 2021
The clocks go back this weekend - signalling the end of British Summertime and the beginning of the winter months.
Despite the extra hour in bed on Saturday night, many of us in Wales will see a slump in our mood as the darker, gloomier nights start to draw in.
A lack of natural daylight and dipping temperatures can make people feel lethargic and miserable.
But there are many steps we can all take to mange our low mood when the cold snap starts to bite.
We have two chemicals in our brain called melatonin and serotonin which regulate mood, sleep, anxiety levels and libido. Both need the right amounts of daylight to work at their best.
When light levels are lower, these chemicals can get out of sync which leads to low mood, tiredness and comfort eating.
Unsurprisingly, people from Iceland and Norway — who’ve spent more generations adapting to harsh climates — don’t take the wintry conditions as badly as others and studies have revealed our bodies do have a natural response to the shorter days, helping adjust our brain chemistry when the light fades.
But for some, this isn’t enough and extra efforts are needed to stay mentally well. But there are a few things we can do to beat the winter blues.
Get outside and get active. It may be freezing but spending time outdoors is probably the best thing to help boost your mood.
Think about ways to build outdoor time into the daily grind and get away from artificial lighting.
Go for a stroll in your favourite place. There are some great scenic walks in the Welsh countryside.
Get out to the shops early and soak up the sunlight as there’s lots of vitamin D to be had in those winter rays. It’s also the perfect excuse to take your dog for a walk or get your kids down the park to play.
Think differently. Being more mindful by observing the season’s changes can help — stunning Welsh sunrises, colourful leaves and flocks of geese could be your focus.
Try to change the way you think about winter from “it’s too cold to go out” to “I’ll wrap up warm and give it a try”. Let’s face it, the weather is going to be poor for several months every year, so plan for it, don’t be surprised and make the most of it.
Maintaining a healthy diet is also important. Overdoing it on carbs can mean putting on weight and it’s easy to overdo it on alcohol during the festive season. While we might all enjoy a festive tipple, too much can worsen mood and anxiety levels. Why not try a mocktail instead?
Gadgets such as light-therapy boxes or wake-up light alarm clocks can be useful. Some studies suggest using them in the morning seems to work better when they can’t disrupt sleep.
It’s also important to avoid mobile phones. Turn them off in bed and read a book instead — Facebook can wait until morning.
But if you’re suffering from a low mood the most important tip is to speak to friends and family. They may be feeling similar and looking for a chance to chat or buddy up for walks when the weather is rough.
And if your low mood persists or worsens – always seek professional advice. For further information on how to look after your mental health during the winter check out: RCPsych, Mental Health Matters Wales, or if you need to speak to someone call Samaritans Wales on 116 123.
- Professor Alka Ahuja is a consultant psychiatrist at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Wales.
- This article was written for The National (now closed down) and issued on 30 October.