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How to beat the winter blues: exercise, socialising and healthy eating can help to keep your spirits up

As the days become shorter and the weather grows colder, it’s common to start feeling low, but there are plenty of ways to brighten up your winter

As the nights draw in, it’s common to feel your spirits ebb. Daylight wanes from its June high of 17 hours to a measly seven-and-a-half by December. It’s no wonder we’re all a bit grumpy.

“We can experience an increase in sleep or daytime drowsiness, a loss of interest, trouble thinking clearly, social withdrawal, irritability, anxiety or feelings of guilt or hopelessness as we get into winter,” says Seamus Sheedy, a psychotherapist accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Whether you experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or are just feeling a bit flat, there are steps you can take to improve your mood.

Keep her lit

A coffee in the back garden or a quick walk at lunchtime – try to get outside and grab the light that’s there, says Sheedy. Get out in the morning or around midday if you can, before the sun starts to dip. If you can’t get out, sit near a window.


Some people find light therapy effective for seasonal depression. Light boxes give out very bright light at least 10 times stronger than ordinary home and office lighting. Others use a dawn simulator – a bedside light, connected to an alarm clock, that mimics a sunrise and wakes you up gradually.

Keep moving

A one-hour walk in the middle of the day could be as helpful as light treatment for coping with the winter blues, according to the NHS. Get regular exercise, but do exercise that you enjoy, says Sheedy. If time or the weather is against you, indoor exercise can improve your mood too.

Eat well

Winter weight gain – it’s a thing. Creamy coffees, red wine, roast dinners and box-set binges coupled with less activity can all add up to gradual weight gain. A winter cycle of lethargy, comfort eating and feeling guilt about it can be a downer.

A healthy diet will boost your mood, give you more energy and stop you putting on weight over winter, says Sheedy. Balance your craving for carbohydrates, such as pasta and potatoes, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Stay away from alcohol and drugs too.

Between October and early March, our bodies don’t make enough vitamin D from sunlight. This can increase fatigue and our susceptibility to colds. In winter, increase your intake of Vitamin D-rich foods such as oily fish, or take a supplement.

See friends and family

Socialising is good for your mental health and helps ward off the winter blues.

Keep in touch with friends and accept any invitations you get, even if you only go for a little while.

“Do things that make you feel better like going to a movie, getting out in the garden, see a play, try to make the effort,” says Sheedy.

Keeping your mind active with a new interest can ward off symptoms of SAD, according to research. Avail of the book clubs, choirs and night courses that all hit their stride in winter. The important thing is that you have something to look forward to and concentrate on.

“If you are feeling low, confide in family or friends. If you don’t feel like doing that, talk to a counsellor or psychotherapist,” says Sheedy.

Be kind

Plants and animals slow down and conserve resources in winter. We can do a little a bit of that too. Explore mindfulness and meditation, light a candle.

“Make a decision at the beginning of the day about the things you are going to do to make your day nicer and to help your mental health,” says Sheedy. “Be kind to yourself.”

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about homes and property, lifestyle, and personal finance