Dealing with emotional distress in winter

Submitted by Belinda from Talk ED

The winter months can feel very difficult to get through. Days are short, the weather is cold and often bleak, it’s been months since we saw green on the trees, and the warmth of spring and summer seems a long way off. At the same time, the benefits of winter include stopping and taking stock, taking time to reflect and also allowing for the germination of new life, new beginnings, new opportunities and new ideas.

Don’t be afraid to slow down

In our modern culture, it’s very easy to feel that being productive is the only thing that’s important. Resting and being still are not activities that are valued or even encouraged, even though these activities have been part of how we’ve behaved as humans for millennia. Rest and reflection are the natural and necessary counterparts to action and movement. Nature itself reflects this by laying dormant – plants stop growing, animals go into hibernation and everything becomes more still. A large part of our suffering may come from the guilt or shame of slowing down, resting and taking time to do nothing. Chronic feelings of guilt and shame can be exhausting and painful. Making efforts to remove the guilt and shame around a natural human process, and reminding ourselves that it’s perfectly normal to rest may help with our winter blues.

Look for natural ways to feel better

Research shows that we can make a difference to how we feel by taking small actions ourselves. Getting some fresh air everyday whilst moving our bodies can help regulate serotonin and dopamine levels, which are crucial in regulating our mood, sleep cycles and appetite. Furthermore, receiving natural light will help with those all-important vitamin D levels that also play a part in our general wellbeing and physical and mental health. Social interaction is also beneficial as it provides an opportunity for connection and to take a step back from what’s going on inside our minds. Whether this be face to face or via zoom or telephone, it can help to make contact with others on a regular basis.

Eating in winter

Our bodies naturally seek out nutrient-dense and filling foods in autumn and winter. This is due to our evolutionary responses to greater scarcity during colder months. Before our modern day culture of food abundance, the main food types that were available to us during winter were high-energy foods such as nuts, which gave us sustenance until the bountiful harvests of late spring and summer. We may find that our appetites have increased during the autumn and winter months, as unconsciously we aim to “stock up”. Again, guilt and shame around this may cause us unnecessary suffering – we are after all only responding to what our bodies are programmed to do. Alternatively, our appetites may have decreased during winter, due to other factors at play, which in itself is causing us to feel worse. Either way, eating and not eating can and does affect our mood. Although we can’t get actual serotonin from foods we can increase foods rich in tryptophan, its building block. Most sources of protein contain tryptophan and complex carbohydrates facilitate the entry of trytophan into the brain. So it’s best to have some complex carbohydrates (eg. potato, sweet potato, rice, wholemeal bread, oats, beans, peas, squash) with protein such as eggs, meat, fish, beans/legumes, dairy and nuts.

Know when to reach out for support

It’s important to not suffer in silence and to reach out for support if you are feeling emotionally distressed this winter. This could be making an appointment with your GP, finding a counsellor if you are not currently receiving therapy, attending a support group or booking a call with Talk ED or just telling someone you trust how you are feeling.

Read more about Talk ED’s support services.

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