winter blues

Feeling the seasonal gloom? Health writer and psychotherapist Jennifer Cawley shares five science-backed ways you can give yourself an instant mood lift.       

During the winter months, many of us may feel a dip in our mood – with one in three of us affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD). However, there are a few surprisingly quick and simple ways you can brighten up the winter blues. Psychotherapist Jennifer Cawley shares five things you can do throughout the day to boost your mood…

7.30am: Wake up and smell the lemons

When it comes to putting the zing back into the dark mornings, apply a drop of lemon essential oil to your wrists and inhaling the scent. A recent study found that a stimulant oil such as lemon “reliably enhanced positive mood” when compared to a relaxant oil such as lavender and an odourless control scent (water). If lemon’s not for you, try other citrus scents such as wild orange, grapefruit or mandarin.

1pm: Eat as a family (even at work)

It’s not just what you eat that affects your mood, but how you eat and, more importantly, who you eat with. To add a little happiness to your winter’s day, swap your solo sandwich for a date to eat with others, suggest the experts at The Mental Health Foundation. The benefits are threefold. Psychologically, eating in company boosts your mood; socially, you connect with others and it helps create a sense of belonging, and biologically, taking turns to talk and listen helps slow down your food intake, making it a lot easier to digest and helping to keep your gut happy.

5.30pm: Give up your seat

Offering your seat to a stranger on the public transport may not sound appealing on your Monday evening commute but the benefits are worth it. Random acts of kindness can significantly reduce symptoms of depression, according to research by the University of York. Standing up rather than sitting also allows you to open up your chest and take air in deeper into your body, whichhas a relaxing effect on your nervous system. Finally, it’s easier to correct your posture when standing rather than sitting, and a study suggests that this also contributes to a positive frame of mind – pun intended!

8pm: Reach for a smart snack

Carbohydrates are the perfect ingredient for a good night’s sleep, which in turn does wonders for our mood. Nutritionist Angelique Panagos explains, “Carbohydrates such as sweet potato and oats help tryptophan cross the blood-brain barrier, so that it can be converted into serotonin and then melatonin. Melatonin then helps the body prepare for a good night’s sleep.”

Low mood can also be caused by a deficiency in vitamin B or antioxidants such as selenium. “You can boost your vitamin B by eating wholegrains, mushrooms, chicken, broccoli, and root veg,” says Panagos. “And cod, brazil nuts, broccoli and cottage cheese are all rich in antioxidants.” Whatever you eat, do make sure you eat three hours before going to bed, so that you can digest well before sleeping.

9.30pm: Sing during the washing up

The ultimate mood booster, according to the Music, Mind & Brain Group at Goldsmiths University, is singing. The study showed that singing in unison not only helps you shut down the ‘mind chatter’ and release the feel-good hormone oxytocin, it also puts you in touch with primitive, tribal instincts. “Singing together facilitates the formation of temporary ‘neo-tribes’, bringing us closer together socially.”

With this in mind, joining a local choir or singing group is a great idea. Or, if that’s not your thing, singing with your partner, family or housemates during the washing up also counts.

Want to find out more about SAD? Read our expert guide.

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