Beating the Winter Blues: From Experience

Hello! I’m finally back in Surrey after being home in Hong Kong for the past 2 months.

I’m now struggling to get back to UK time because of jet-lag, but the bigger issue is adjusting to having less sunlight. I find it extremely difficult to adjust to shorter days during winter months (from November to March), as my circadian rhythm gets messed up. The period of time that I am productive during the day is significantly less especially if it gets dark out by 4pm, and I find myself feeling tired and hungry constantly and at the wrong times. I know even for locals surviving the winter blues can be a serious struggle! Thank goodness I skipped out on the worst of it, as the days are shortest in December and January, but here are some of my tips to beat the winter blues.

Schedule your day! It’s important to have things to look forward to and do in the day, and putting some structure around it can really help. Try to wake up before 10am (even after a night out) so you can get a bit more of the day when the sun’s still up. Having daylight exposure is also really important in regulating your circadian rhythm so your body doesn’t get confused about the time of day. Also, know when you’re most productive and work your schedule around it. Go for a walk if you can while it’s still daytime to enjoy sunlight if the sun’s out, or even just do some sort of physical activity and you’ll find yourself feeling less lethargic.

Going for a walk around Manor Park and enjoying the (limited) sunlight.

Set up your work environment appropriately to get work done. Accommodation rooms aren’t necessarily best for studying because the ceiling lights are geared towards residential purposes, ie. for living, relaxing, resting. Plus there’s always the siren calls of your warm and comfortable bed. The library is set up as a place for studying and working, ie. the ambiance, the seating, the lighting etc., and it’s open 24/7.  If you do prefer working your room as I do usually, try to make your workspace conducive for work. I like keeping my workspace tidy and organised so I don’t feel overwhelmed, and I also invested in a SAD lamp for my work desk as advised by a local – they mimic sunlight and thereby tricking your brain into thinking you’re getting some daylight and to make you less sleepy.

Here’s my desk set-up for the year

Have a look at what you’re eating and try to make it work for your health. As a student dietitian, I know the importance of nutrition on physical and mental health. I tend to care about what and how I eat to help myself feel good. Since I cook most of my meals, I can pick and choose ingredients to ensure I’m eating balanced meals. I was also taught that in the UK there is a general recommendation to take vitamin D supplements to compensate for less sunlight during winter months to (sunlight is the ultimate source of vitamin D). Studies have shown vitamin D partly helps to fight off the winter blues. Have a look into possibly taking a supplement, although be aware of the dosage of your supplement in case you exceed the recommended daily intake. I usually take my vitamin D supplement every couple of days from mid Oct-mid Mar, as I’ve personally dealt with the consequences of vitamin D deficiency and would not want to experience it again.

Go socialise – even if it’s cold out and you’re tired. Humans are social animals, and no matter how introverted you are you need some sort of social interaction to stimulate yourself. Believe me, I know what it’s like to want to stay in the warmth of my room for days and not see anyone, but not having social interactions can be detrimental to mental health. Try having meals with friends every so often, even if you’re feeling exhausted (of course never push yourself especially if you’re ill), or schedule activities you can do together like movie or board game nights. After all, we’re all suffering through the winter blues, might as well suffer a little less together.

We made dumplings for Chinese New Year to de-stress from exams. They’re not pretty, but they tasted great!