If colder weather, shorter days and that post-Christmas slump cause you to feel the winter blues, you’re not alone. It’s not uncommon to experience fatigue, sadness, have difficulty concentrating, or experience a disruption in your sleep schedule during the winter season.

For some, this mood change is temporary and can be managed with lifestyle modifications but for others, the winter blues are actually a severe type of depression called seasonal affective disorder or SAD. SAD can affect people during any season or time of year - some people experience it in summer, although less research has been conducted on this so generally people are more aware of winter SAD.

Many people experiencing the symptoms of SAD find a diagnosis helpful. The first step is usually to visit your GP. If you're given a diagnosis of SAD, this will be based on whether your symptoms repeatedly follow a seasonal pattern, usually for two or more years – it doesn't depend on the specific season or time of year when you're affected.

The winter months can feel long and difficult. Take time for yourself and your mental health every day. Incorporating self-care strategies into your routine can have a positive impact on your mental and physical health. Here are some ideas.

Set and keep to a schedule as much as possible

Even though we know it’s coming, the change from Autumn to Winter can be a shock. When change happens, it’s helpful to stick to a regular routine. Having some things that are predictable can create a sense of safety and help us feel more in control. Planning activities that make you feel happy, connected to others and give you a sense of achievement can help to boost your mood. Doing something that energises – whether it’s physical activity or a new challenge, project or craft - can help too.

Make the most of the daylight

Exposure to light is really important during the shorter daylight hours. Be creative with how you get more light. Try brightening up your home environment by opening curtains and blinds, making a conscious effort to let in as much sunlight as possible. If you’re working from home (or even in the office) get outside when you can, by scheduling time during your day.

Connect with people

Sometimes, the last thing we feel like doing is talking to people. You might be feeling anxious, or overwhelmed, or just not very sociable - but connecting with other people has lots of benefits for your mental health. Talking through things that are worrying you can be really helpful, just sharing can help you feel supported and listened to. Keep in touch with friends and family in whatever way works for you – phone, video-chat, text, good old-fashioned letter.

Exercise and eat well

Try to keep physically active during the winter. While you may not feel like it at the time, physical activity can be very effective in lifting your mood and increasing your energy levels. It doesn’t have to be anything particularly strenuous – doing housework, gardening or going for a gentle walk, if you are able to, can all help. Doing something physical outside in a green space, such as the park or the countryside, has been shown to be especially helpful. A healthy diet is also important, try to balance that craving for carbs that we can experience in winter, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Find time for yourself.

Sometimes we fill our time with commitments and activities that crowd out our own needs. Find something that works for you – and make it happen. This might be as simple as shutting the bathroom door and taking a long bath, it might be 15 minutes dancing to your favourite tunes, it might be booking-in a day’s leave from work.

And remember, Spring is on its way!