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Beating The Winter Blues

This was written to be assessed as part of Jen's Journalism course. This was in Semester 1 of Level 5 and was for the Photojournalism module.

Photo: Jen Ramm, 2015

One day after a writing session, I looked out of my frosted window and was met by the moon hanging over the sky. I know I tend to get lost in my writing for hours, but much to my surprise, it wasn’t nighttime. A quick scan of my iPhone revealed that it was only five o’clock, and I slumped back into my chair. It appeared to me that summer was well and truly over. 

As the days draw in sooner and the sun sets in the early evening, it’s easy to lose sight of hope during the winter. This feeling, generally referred to as ‘the winter blues’ or ‘depression-lite’, can be linked to seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD. This is primarily caused by a lack of sunlight, leading to more melatonin production and lower serotonin levels. One common misconception about SAD is that it is a standalone disorder. In actuality, it is a subtype of major depression that includes a recurrent depressive phase that comes and goes with the changing seasons. Society has made considerable strides in mental health awareness in recent years, so why is it that SAD is just shrugged off? The main reason could be stigma driven by a lack of understanding, but there are many ways to cope with these challenging feelings. 

During the colder months, it’s easy to shy away from the elements and stay indoors in the warm - but research has shown that being out in nature has genuine benefits for mental health. From personal experience, I have found that a brisk walk, braving the cold, can boost brain power and revitalise. Feeling a harsh wind on my flushed face wakes me up, anyway. We’re often told that exercise is good for our mental health, and as tough as this may be - it’s correct. Bundle yourself up in layers, put on your favourite woolly hat and get outdoors! From icy, intricate spider webs, to bright berries on bare branches, to wild primroses blooming, the natural world during winter is something to behold. Write your name in frost that has settled on a wall, or even observe and look out for foxes and squirrels since winter is their mating season. Remember when you were little and had the time of your life making snow angels and snowmen; there’s nothing to say you can’t make that happen again, the next time it snows. When it comes to nature, we often tend to disregard anything other than a flower-blooming springtime or a warm pleasant summer, but getting outside in any season is always sure to greatly improve your mental health. 

With mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, research has shown that being out in nature helps. If you are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder, or even just feeling a bit down as it gets chillier, natural light and getting your vitamin D is highly recommended. The science behind this was explored in a 1996 clinical trial led by Dr Anna Wirz-Justice, a neurobiologist and professor. In this study, half of the patients suffering from SAD were treated with an hour’s outside walk in natural light, the other half only being exposed to artificial light, which was essentially a placebo. The results showed that natural sunlight can be effective in treating the depressive symptoms of SAD, something we most likely already knew - but it was backed up by science. Our brains are powerful organs, but sometimes we need a little support from outside sources - in this case, the sun - to help them to function better. As well as what’s referred to as ‘light therapy’, ecotherapy is another useful tool to maintain your well-being. By implementing some time outdoors into your routine, whether that be gardening, a short walk or a bit of cycling, you are reconnecting with nature while also reaping its benefits. 

So, I acknowledge the fact that the sun bids us farewell at an earlier time of day, but this time around I want to look at the changing seasons from another perspective. Instead of wishing away the winter months and longing to trade them in for some sunshine, I bask in whatever sunlight I can; it turns into gold dust. I look out of my window the next morning and see a tiny robin perched on top of my patio table. It’s vital that we hold onto flickers of hope during this time, and being out in nature and getting to know wildlife very well could be the key to this. 


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