Have you ever noticed that your mood begins to change with the seasons? Do you feel lethargic, tired, low and heavy hearted as summer turns to autumn/winter? Well don’t panic... you are not alone! Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD for short) can range from mild malaise to a deeper depression during the autumn/winter months.
Anna Wirz-Justice, professor of psychiatric neurobiology at the Centre for Chronobiology in Basel, Switzerland explains that “Even healthy people who have no seasonal problems seem to experience this low-amplitude change over the year, with worse mood and energy during autumn and winter and an improvement in spring and summer”
As with most things in life, Scandinavian countries have been at the forefront of improving the symptoms of the ‘winter blues’ for hundreds of years, in fact the Danes call it Hugge. The pronunciation is heavily debated but EVERYONE agrees it’s not a word - it’s a feeling, it’s an atmosphere, it’s about making the dark nights and bad weather work for you not against you. By implementing just a few of these tried and tested techniques in your self care routine this autumn/winter, you could see a marked improvement in your mood and also have you looking forward to the bad weather and darker days.
So from the Happiness Research Institute here is some of the most important tips from their ten point manifesto for happiness during the autumn/winter months. A few simple things you can do right now to increase happiness and fight off those winter blues.
The right lighting is crucial to creating a warm, calm and relaxing atmosphere. You want to look forward to the dark so you can dim your lamps, light your candles and switch on your fairy lights to create a warm glow throughout your home. When Danes were asked what the most important factor of Hugge is, a whopping 85% said candles. During the dark stormy winter days the Danes even have candles in their children’s classrooms and in their offices so vital is the idea of atmosphere.
If open flames and your littles sounds like a bit of a nightmare for you then some warm glowy fairy lights or a low light dimmer lamp will do the job just as well. Stay away from LED or blue toned lights. Keep your lighting warm and low and twinkly, this is the first step to creating that warmness in your soul.
Following on from step one we’re still working on creating that atmosphere in your home. Atmosphere is key. Now we have the right lighting it’s time to add the soft furnishings, the things that make us feel cozy. Through the use of blankets, pillows, rugs and woollen socks you can begin to create a warm feeling that’s all about comfort, softness and relaxation. You want to make your home feel like your little den, a place of peace and security where you and your loved ones are sheltered from the storm that’s blowing outside.
It can be daunting and expensive to take on your whole house so start with one space, make it into your favourite place in the house, somewhere you can cuddle up with a book or relax with a warm cup of coffee - the rest of the house can come later.
Living in the moment means switching off your phone, laptop and even your TV. Give yourself at least one hour a day ‘tech break’. We rely so heavily on our technology these days and for most of us it’s a life line. Maybe you use technology for work, maybe you’re a stay at home mum and the only conversations you have all day is with other parents online or via txt message, maybe you are an entrepreneur and your phone and laptop need to be on so that you’re contactable and, let's be honest, everyone loves Netflix and chill.
Whether you use technology to earn a living or to stay connected with family and friends you have to set aside time to switch off. Literally. Dedicate an hour each day to be tech free. This might be a challenge at first so by all means try a shorter amount of time and build on it but the benefits to your mental health of a tech free hour are huge. This includes the TV. Switch off, be mindful and live in the moment and fill your tech free hour with some much needed self care. Maybe you love to exercise or maybe you’d rather sit and read. Maybe you love to cook or bake? Use this tech free hour to indulge in something you love, which brings us nicely onto our next point for happiness…
Embrace the Creative:
Getting creative and exploring yourself through various art mediums is considered one of the most significant things you can do to maintain good mental wellbeing. Turn that tech free hour into longer stretches, or set aside some time at the weekends to focus solely on getting creative.
Maybe you enjoy writing and would like to keep a diary? Sit in your favourite spot and take the time to write about your inner most feelings. Try poetry, paint, draw, knit, learn guitar…anything! This is your time to really let loose. Don’t worry about being ‘good’ at it because that’s not what this is about. This is about an emotional release. Something you can work on that allows you to express yourself no holds barred. Learning something knew or honing your craft is the best self care you can practice so switch off the tech and get hands on for an hour... go on, you deserve it and who knows what your hobby could turn into!
Food that makes you go MmmmMmm...
Think warm, think yummy and think homemade if you can. It should be food that you can ideally make together with your loved ones to promote a feeling of togetherness. This is all about getting hands on making food together to be shared with your loved ones. Don’t worry if you can’t cook together you can still create a wonderful atmosphere of sharing food, togetherness and work up to the creating later.
The Happiness Research Institute’s food list includes homemade bread fresh from the oven covered in your favourite topping. Mugs of warm hot chocolate, hearty fresh soups, coffee and cake but really any food that is warm and made with love is perfect. Try and prepare the food together with the significant others in your lives. Getting everyone involved in the making process brings everyone closer which helps you stay connected during your busy lives. Enjoying warm yummy food that you have lovingly prepared as a family Is a fast track way of releasing some much needed endorphins. So roll up your sleeves, pop some music on and get cooking.
You may have read through these points and thought, “I have no time, I’m too tired, I don’t have the energy to do any of that”, and this is completely understandable. We lead such busy lives and we give so much to others that we can feel worn out never mind adding Seasonal Affect Disorder into the mix! But it really is so important to remember we can’t pour from an empty cup. These steps should help you to feel full again. To feel warm and comforted so that you are restored and able to continue giving to others without burning yourself out.