Tips for older people to get over the winter blues
19th September 2018
When the nicer weather ends with the passing of summer and then autumn, and as the days become shorter and darker, the winter blues, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), can become a prevalent factor in many people’s lives. It’s no surprise that many people suffer from this slump in their mood come winter time, especially when it comes to older people or those who might make use of curved indoor stairlifts, as they may struggle to get out and about, becoming secluded at home. There are actions that can be taken, however, to counteract the winter blues and with that in mind, this guide can act as an introduction to some of them. Read on for some helpful tips for older people to get over the winter blues.
While improving or altering your diet won’t be a cure in and of itself for depression, a healthy and nutritious diet can be one of many potent tools in the treatment of the condition. Katrin from Sugar Free Londoner (a blog dedicated to promoting sugar-free healthy family food), understands the important role diet can play in this regard and spoke about the dangers associated with poor nutrition:
“When it gets cold outside, we often crave comfort foods. And for many people, comfort foods mean sweets. Eating sugary foods might give you a brief energy and a feel-good boost, but the negative effects outweigh the positive ones.
“Here's what happens in your body when you eat sugar: Your pancreas releases insulin to transport the sugar from the blood into the cells. Sugar derived from fructose is stored directly in the liver as glycogen. When these glycogen stores are full up, the liver converts the sugar into fat. The issue with this natural process is that it causes our blood sugar levels to plummet, which makes us feel tired and irritable. The result? We crave more sugary foods. It's a bit like a rollercoaster ride - lots of ups and downs, and hardly relaxing.
“Processed foods such as ready meals contain plenty of hidden sugars. The same counts for refined carbohydrates such as white bread or pasta - they provide very few nutrients and send us on a blood sugar rollercoaster. On top of that, when the body processes sugar in food it uses up mood-enhancing vitamin B, which is necessary to convert sugar into energy.
“If we binge on sweets and take shortcuts by eating processed foods, we're on track to suffer from low energy levels, inflammation, poor digestion, low immunity and mood swings. All these issues can affect our mental health and make us feel gloomy.”
So, what can people do? Katrin offers some excellent advice: “Apart from taking a good vitamin D supplement to combat the lack of light, getting outside for walks and spending quality time with friends and family, diet can have a positive impact on how we feel.
“In winter I always dose up on vegetables. For example, dark, leafy greens such as spinach or kale contain plenty of folate and magnesium, which are linked to the production of the ‘happiness-hormone’ serotonin. I regularly eat fatty fish such as salmon as well as flax and chia seeds. These contain omega 3 fatty acids, which are also known to stabilise our mood. Citrus fruit such as grapefruit and lemons are not only beneficial for their vitamin C content but are also high in folate. Interestingly, eggs are one of the very few dietary sources of vitamin D, so eggs in all variations make regular appearances for breakfast. And there's always chocolate, which is rich in antioxidants. Not the sugary milk chocolate though - my favourite is dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 90%.
“If you're in the mood for a dessert without dosing up on sugar, head over to my website, where you can find plenty of sugar-free desserts using nutritious nut flours and calorie-free natural sugar alternatives such as stevia or erythritol. These sweets taste just as good as the real thing, only without the negative side effects associated with sugar. That way, you can have your cake and eat it!”
Part of the cause of the winter blues and depression during these colder months is the lack of light that accompanies this time of year. So, a top piece of advice would be to make the most of the light available. Get outside as much as you can as the natural light will be a great boost to your spirits. This is the advice of Liz Earle MBE, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Liz Earle Wellbeing. Liz Earle is an award-winning authority on wellbeing and as such, is expertly placed to offer helpful advice on this very subject:
“It’s not known why the winter blues drag some down more than others, but it may be that some of us need a lot more light to stay on an even keel. In winter, not enough light penetrates the gloom inside our homes, so try to spend at least 30 minutes outside each day, especially if the sun is shining. Head to a local park or enjoy a walk in the countryside – walking amongst nature has been shown to lower our stress and anxiety levels as well as improve our memory. If the weather really is too miserable to go outside, try boosting your mood by bringing the outside in. I love decorating table runners with leaves and dried seed pods and berries – an easy way of bringing nature into the home.”
Don’t be embarrassed
Depression is a serious matter that can have huge ramifications for your health so it’s important that you treat the matter with the attention it deserves. Claire Eastham, an award-winning mental health blogger from the website We’re All Made Here, suggests that those suffering from seasonal depression speak out about what they’re going through: “Be kind, don't punish yourself. You wouldn't feel embarrassed about a physical injury like a broken leg, so a mental health issue isn't any different. Make an appointment with your GP to discuss your options. Tell family how you're feeling and talk to charities such as Age UK for additional support.”
Claire also offers some advice for friends and relatives, so they know what to look out for in those around them: “The key signs are: Not taking care of themselves physically, e.g. not showering or bothering to get dressed. Being reluctant to leave the house or see people and being more emotional than usual.”
One doesn’t need to be a health professional to notice that cold weather can put you down in the dumps so staying warm during winter will be a big help in improving a person’s mood. Try to wear warm clothes and plenty of layers, enjoy hot drinks like tea, cocoa, and soup, and if possible, attempt to avoid staying in one place for too long as blood circulation is key to maintain a healthy body temperature. Additionally, try to keep your home at a warm temperature, somewhere between 18C and 21C. Staying warm isn’t a cure for depression but when combined with these other tips it can have a potent accumulative effect.
Try to keep active
Keeping active is another highly recommended tip for tackling the winter blues or SAD. Getting the blood flowing and heart rate up a little can have a tremendous impact on personal wellbeing. Of course, mobility issues may restrain anything vigorous but even a simple walk outside will do the job. Not only will this help improve circulation but will allow the person in question to absorb vital vitamin D and sunlight. Don’t strain or attempt anything that might cause harm, but short regular exercise will without question prove to be a great tool in your arsenal when fighting the winter months.
Enjoy time with friends and family
The act of spending times with both friends and family is a well-known method for improving mental health when it comes to the winter blues. Human beings are innately social creatures and in general, don’t do well when isolated for long periods, so try to stay in touch with loved ones, invite friends over for tea or dinner, and try to say yes to any invitations that you might receive. There’s no need be around others constantly, but ensuring some regular interaction can be a big benefit. Older people can find this difficult due to mobility issues, so families can really help in this regard by encouraging get-togethers.
As mentioned, light can be a great benefit in staving off the winter blues and SAD, and apart from getting outside, many people find that light therapy is very effective in combatting seasonal depression. Light therapy can be used at home by acquiring what is known as a light box and sitting in front of it for around 20 minutes to an hour each day. These lights are at least 10 times the strength of normal home lighting and don’t break the bank either, such as this one from SAD.co.uk. For those looking for a proven tool against SAD for yourself or a loved one, light therapy is well worth a try.
Take up a new hobby
Keeping the mind active, especially with the introduction of a new hobby, has been known to help counter SAD symptoms. It doesn’t need to be anything drastic or beyond a person’s ability, but something as simple as playing cards, knitting, writing in a journal or letters to loved ones, a musical instrument and so on. What is important here is that the mind remains both stimulated and concentrated. Having something to look forward to during the cold, dark winter months can help bring great joy to your life. If worried about a loved one, a new hobby would be a wonderful suggestion. Perhaps even consider joining them!
How to avoid the winter blues
Getting over, or better yet, avoiding the winter blues entirely is a question on a significant number of people’s minds, especially when it comes to the older generations who might find themselves isolated. It’s a serious issue but with the tips and suggestions above, a person can begin to build a great arsenal of tools to stave off seasonal depression and remain both positive and happy when winter comes around. So, note these tips down, utilise them, and implement them to help yourself and others who might be suffering. Once again and more briefly, here are some tips for older people to get over the winter blues:
- Eat well
- Go outside
- Don’t be embarrassed
- Stay warm
- Try to keep active
- Enjoy time with friends and family
- Light therapy
- Take up a new hobby
Image credit: Burim
This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.