Why do I feel sad during winter? An expert explains

Whether you’re reading this first thing in bed with a cup of tea or snuggling up on the sofa at the end of the day, chances are it’s dark outside, thanks to the clock change.

If you’re anything like me, the darker evenings might make you feel a bit gloomy, so we’ve teamed up with happiness experts, from therapists to life coaches, to help inject a bit of brightness back into the darker days.

Each day this week, we’re blessing your with a little hit of happiness, with our Let The Light In masterclass, to see you through this initial transition into winter. Our mini masterclass kicks off with health and wellbeing expert Dr. Radha, who explains why we feel low when the light fades – and gives her top tips for banishing the winter scaries.

© Instagram
Dr. Radha is a health and wellbeing expert

“When the clocks change many of us feel a sense of dread about the dark months ahead of us,” Dr. Radha explains. “We cannot change the season, but we can change how we feel about them. One of the keys to this is to understand what might be happening in our bodies and minds and how that affects our thoughts, emotions and motivation.”

Why do I feel down when it’s dark?

“We can all get the winter blues, but for some people, the impact of the winter season can have a major impact on their mental health in the form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD),” says Dr. Radha.

1. A hormonal imbalance 

“There can be many reasons why the clock change can make us feel low, both biological and psychological. We think that a lot of the challenging feelings around darker evenings are caused by reduced exposure to sunlight during the day.

Woman looking miserable on her sofa© Shutterstock
Many people feel down during the darker days

“A lack of sunlight may cause higher than normal levels of melatonin (the sleep hormone) in a part of our brains called the hypothalamus, making us feel more tired and lethargic. This lack of sunlight might also lower a hormone called serotonin which impacts our appetite and mood, making us feel low.

“Our internal body clock (circadian rhythm), which controls how everything functions and interacts may also be disrupted.”

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2. Our free time feels shorter

“Psychologically for most of us, evenings represent time off work and time for ourselves.

“With evenings getting darker earlier, we find it less easy to go out and do the things we enjoy. We feel like we go to work in the dark and come back in the dark and that is it – no playtime for us.

“If you multiply this by a few months, life can feel monotonous. We can also feel like everything is an effort and temptation to ‘just stay in’ is high, but we have to realise that will just make us feel worse.”

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How to feel positive when it’s dark

“You cannot change the seasons and you certainly can’t change the world from turning, so all you are doing by framing winter and autumn as ‘bad’ is wasting precious emotional energy and time,” says Dr. Radha.

1 Reframe winter

Rather than moping about it being dark, Dr. Radha recommends thinking positive thoughts about winter.

“Realise you have the power to change how you think depending on what you focus on. Set yourself a challenge to pick one thing per day you like about winter and focus on that for the whole day in your mind. By the end of the season, you might be surprised by how many things you have identified.”

Photo of a young woman taking a few minutes off to relax on the balcony over the city, on a beautiful, sunny, autumn day© Getty
Make the most of the opportunity to feel cosy

2. Tune into your senses

“Our senses are our friends in the winter months. Our brains have powerful memories and associations with what we smell, hear, touch, taste and see, so use these to feel better.

“One summery track of music can transport you to that sunny holiday a few years ago. One sniff of a lovely moisturiser can take you on a journey to sunnier and brighter days. One sip of hot chocolate can help you appreciate the cosiness of autumn and reframe winter as not the enemy but as just a different experience. Not ‘good’ or ‘bad’ just as it is.

“Your senses tap into your imagination and your emotions so use them to full effect this autumn and winter.”

3. Keep in touch with family and friends 

“Social connection is one of the mainstays to keeping us well mentally and emotionally. It is too easy in winter to stay in rather than say yes to an invite.

“Our relationships are one of the major predictors of us feeling good mentally. Make sure you plan dedicated time, either as a regular thing or in advance with friends or family every single week.

friends laughing by a river© Getty
Staying in touch with friends helps us feel happier

“It can be helpful to book an activity together or to do something so that it feels more engaged and involved rather than a dinner which you can easily cancel.”

4. Stay active 

“It is tempting to hibernate and avoid exercise because we feel just too tired, but actually exercise gives us energy.

Woman running outside© Shutterstock
Exercise is important in winter

“Adapt your exercise routine to include group classes to motivate yourself to do something and to get a social element out of it too. Or adapt your active time to the middle of the day so you benefit from natural daylight which can in itself help us with feeling low during winter.

“Getting active boosts your mood and makes you have more energy, confidence and builds self-esteem so however tempting, don’t give it up.

 Find more inspiration on how to be happier on HELLO!’s Happines Hub

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