Psychologist reveals how YOU can keep your winter spirits topped up

With winter on the horizon it can often trigger the blues. 

Many of us end up eating our feelings and letting an inch of dust settle on our long-forgotten gym membership cards, wrapping up in our biggest jumpers, and waiting until we can sit outside again.

Feeling sad about the end of summer is a normal reaction, but sometimes the onset of winter can seriously affect our mood.

And according to UK-based leading psychologist and mindfulness expert, Hope Bastine, this can be anything from a slightly low feeling to a more serious sadness, including a decreased lack of motivation or enjoyment, and trouble sleeping (or sleeping too much). 

Speaking exclusively to FEMAIL, Hope, who is resident expert for sleep technology firm Simba, has revealed some of the simple steps to keep your winter spirits topped up – from embracing good sleep hygiene and clearing the clutter to parking up to drink in an ‘inspiring view.   

Hope, who is resident expert for sleep technology firm Simba, has revealed some of the simple steps to keep your winter spirits topped up. Pictured, stock image

‘First of all, it’s important to know that there’s a difference between the winter blues and seasonal affective disorder (otherwise known as SAD),’ she explained. ‘Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression (sometimes called ‘winter depression’) that occurs in a seasonal pattern. 

‘It’s usually triggered in winter and improves during the summer, but some people experience it the other way around.’

The “winter blues”, on the other hand, are a general dip in mood and energy that’s noticeable but not problematic. A lot of people experience the winter blues on and off.’ 

A severe case of SAD will need professional help, but if you’re experiencing a lull in mood, here are some things that you incorporate into your daily routine to help keep yourself feeling positive.

1. Embrace good sleep hygiene

Winding down for the day is just as important as gearing up for the day, according to Hope. 

‘Research has linked less sunlight in winter to the disruption of our circadian rhythm (our 24-hour body clock),’ she explains. ‘The abrupt change in our circadian rhythm in turn throws off our sleeping pattern which can leave us feeling over-tired, craving comfort food and blue.’

‘Before bed, remember to run through this handy checklist to make sure you have everything for a good night’s sleep.’

She goes on to suggest covering blinking chargers so you’re not disturbed by the light, and setting up your bedside table with everything you might need during the evening and night – including earplugs, a book, and a glass of water.

‘Find somewhere to put your phone, such as a drawer,’ she continues. ‘It doesn’t have to be far away, but make sure it’s out of sight. And if your phone also acts as your alarm clock, consider buying a cheap analogue version so you’re not tempted to browse the internet in bed.’

The leading psychologist also notes the importance of arming yourself with a healthy sleep routine by establishing sleep and wake times that allow you to get all the rest you need. 

Leading psychologist and mindfulness expert expert Hope Bastine’s recommended bedtime routine: 

Mind Stage (first 20 mins)

Signal it’s time to wind down by making use of the ‘bedtime’ mode on your iPhone clock. Switch off technology at least 1 hour before bedtime. No TV. No phones. No screens whatsoever. Make your sleep space sacred. 

The LED backlight of your devices trigger the beta brainwave state which is anxiety inducing. Switch on an amber or pink lowlight to activate the melatonin release. Scented Candles are even better. 

To induce the alpha brainwave state (the relaxed pre-sleep state), find activities that activate right-brain engagement. 

This is the creative, non-verbal side of your brain. Such activities include: journal writing, playing an instrument, listening to music (classical/chill-out); reading or listening to a book (literature or fiction – nothing logical or analytical) reading poetry, writing poetry; writing a gratitude diary.

Body Stage (second 20 mins)

Consider a warm bath (not too hot as it can be anxiety provoking) with Epsom or magnesium salts and aromatherapy oils such as lavender essence.

Massage or moisturize. Touch releases the so-called cuddle hormone oxytocin. The warm and fuzzy feeling this produces has wonderful stress releasing effect.

Stretch-it-out with Yoga. Boston University researchers discovered the post-yoga lull sees a remarkable

27% increase in GABA saturation after one hour that is unmatched by any medication or supplement. GABA is an amino acid that moderates mood and anxiety levels.

Sense Stage (last 20 mins):

Once you have created your bedroom sanctuary, consciously step over the threshold into it and connect with all the associations that make you feel calm and mentally prepared for sleep. 

As you slip into your bed allow your senses to wake up to feelings: smell the aroma, feel the cool crisp sheets, allow your eyes to become adjusted to the dim amber lighting, and most importantly practice the art of letting go – let your body sink into the bed.

Simba's Orion bedbase (pictured), is available in three colourways, with customisable headboards, legs, slats and stain resistant fabrics

Simba’s Orion bedbase (pictured), is available in three colourways, with customisable headboards, legs, slats and stain resistant fabrics

2. Walk your way to wellness

Hope goes on to explain how endorphins are the feel-good hormone, and as the seasons change and the weather starts to bite, they are exactly what we all need need. 

‘Exercise is a great way to stimulate this,’ she says. ‘If you can’t bear the thought of going to the gym after work, opt for something a little calmer: try walking part (or all) of the way.

‘Not only will your body be zipping with endorphins but you’ll also be giving yourself some time to decompress – which is essential if you live a busy life.’ 

The expert adds that if you’re a parent who needs to rush home to sort out your children, try some simple floor exercises and stretches once you’ve put them down for the night.

‘You need time for you too,’ she notes. 

3. Search out sunlight and nature

‘Exposure to light early in the day stimulates your body and mind and encourages those zest for life feelings of wakefulness, alertness and energy, so maximise exposure to natural light from the moment of waking up,’ says Hope.

‘Whether you’re in the office or working from home, make sure you’re using your lunch break to get out into natural light. Points for effort if it’s raining!’

However, she suggests that if having your weekday fix is hard, then you should aim to get out and about at the weekend. 

For city dwellers, Hope advises taking a light seeking adventure into nearby countryside or parks and immersing themselves in nature.

‘There’s also nothing like filling your lungs with fresh air to improve your mood,’ she says.

3.’Park Up’

Hope additionally suggests thinking about a particular vista locally that ‘inspires’ you and says you’ll generally find a park bench there. 

‘I have a particular favourite in Greenwich, south London,’ she explains. ‘Wrap up warm, take a seat and absorb the scenery. 

‘You might even want to put in those headphones, crank up the happy beats or immerse yourself into an audiobook.’

4. Fuel up with L-tryptophan

According to Hope, a great way to combat the winter blues is with your diet.

‘When it comes to mood altering ingredients, the one you won’t find on the back of the packet is the one you need: L-tryptophan,’ she claims. 

‘L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid which is used by your body to produce niacin, a vitamin vital to your skin, nerves and digestion and serotonin, your very own mood stabiliser.’

She continues: ‘Aside from improving your mood, L-tryptophan is also incredibly important to your sleep-wake cycle. 

‘If you want to wake up after a refreshing night’s sleep and be ready to tackle the day, start incorporating the following foods into your diet: nuts, seeds, red meat, eggs, turkey, fish, lentils, oats and beans.’

5. Clear the clutter and switch up your decor and ‘think pink’.

The sleep expert notes that getting a great night’s sleep starts with the bedroom.

‘It should be an oasis of calm where you feel happy, relaxed, and – hopefully – ready to settle down for the night,’ she explains. ‘Start by giving your bedroom a tidy. The neater your environment, the less stressful it is, and the more relaxed you’ll feel.’

She goes on to say that given we’re still spending more time at home, if your home feels a little humdrum and uninspiring, try freshening things up. 

‘Start by moving your furniture around to give you a fresh perspective,’ Hope says. ‘If your kitchen is looking tired, a set of new handles and furniture paint can literally save you thousands.

‘A statement headboard and bed frame can immediately change the look and feel of a bedroom room. 

‘Simba has recently turned its attention to reinventing the bed base and has engineered responsive suspension at the end of each slat that intelligently cushions your weight and relieves back pressure, providing intuitive support for your lower back and shoulders.’

She adds: ‘Slats are wider at the base of your spine where you are heavier and thinner at your shoulders where you need lighter support, perfectly balancing your frame.’ 

Hope goes on to say that if you want to go a step further, think about a pink hued headboard.

‘Colours in the red spectrum can boost happiness hormones which will in turn make you feel satisfied about your day enough to let it go and rest your mind for sleep,’ she explains. 

‘It’s also useful to note that the average room temperature is around 20 degrees; yet, maintaining a bedroom temperature of 18 degrees or lower will mimic the body’s hibernation state and help maintain a calmer state of mind.’ 

5. Practice self kindness

The mindfulness expert also points out how the coming months are not a time to punish yourself for eating comfort food or missing gym appointments. 

‘It’s important for us to stay healthy as it can have a big effect on our mood, but there’s no point beating yourself up for not being perfect,’ she says. ‘Stay warm and happy, and make sure you’re leaving time for yourself.’

‘Whilst the winter blues affect most of us to some degree, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can be a more dilapidating offset of these darker, longer nights.’

She adds: ‘SAD is fully recognised by health professionals and if you are particularly struggling with your mental and physical wellbeing during the winter months we encourage you to visit your GP to get any support you may need.’

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