Winter blues and winter hues

Does winter bring you down? A little or a lot? By Wonita Woolhouse

As the cooler months set in, we tend to reach for foods higher in starch. We may feel more fatigued and some of us are in our pjs by 4:30pm! Is this the onset of the ‘winter blues’ or something more serious? Are we okay to feel this way, embrace Mother Nature’s ‘permission giving’ and attend to our wellbeing? Is there a cause for concern with the felt need to hibernate?

I think there is room to recognise both extremes and all the ‘hues’ in between. For some people, winter does induce a persistent low mood, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is triggered by changes in the amount of light between seasons, with symptoms beginning often in autumn and remitting in spring. It is characterised by depressive mood, lack of energy, hypersomnia and increased appetite (Rosenthal et al., 1984). Recommended treatment includes Vitamin D, some medication and light therapy. Others relish rugging up, crockpot stews, red wine, and Netflix.

Wherever you fit, notice your own ‘hue’ and notice if it becomes persistent and pervasive, impacting on what you do and who you are. Notice and be informed by your mood and your children’s moods. If you are feeling low – because it happens to all of us – allow yourself to feel. Allow yourself to tend to what you might need. Normalising feeling low teaches tolerance of one’s emotional state and to regulate ‘hues’ of mood. Emotional regulation is a physiological process, not only a cognitive one. By being able to do this as parents, we are offering ‘permission’ to our children about managing their moods – the highs and the lows. Emotional regulation develops at an early age, with an attuned caregiver. It is only through connection with another, that we develop the neural processes involved in managing overwhelm, developing self-compassion, building resilience and inaugurating resources for managing oneself.

To manage winter blues, or hues, connect with others, in person – not merely ‘liking’ a post, or sending a text. Genuine connection with another provides validation – that you matter.  So, connect with your child if their mood seems low. Let them know they matter. Get a dialogue going and keep it going – the content often isn’t important; the warmth of connecting and conversing IS. 

We all need to pay close attention to what is happening to ourselves and our children, and watch for ‘red flags’: signs that may mean seeking additional support through your GP or other health professionals. Various organisations and websites offer ‘symptom checklists’ and recommendations, and your own intuit knowing will guide you to seek professional help.