Winter blues: experts weigh in on common phenomenon and offer tips to ease symptoms



Published May 24, 2023


During the winter months, many people experience a dip in their mood and energy levels, which is often referred to as the winter blues.

This phenomenon is believed to be caused by reduced exposure to sunlight as a result of seasonal changes in weather, shorter daylight hours, and less sunshine.

The effects of this condition can manifest in feelings of depression, lethargy, and a lack of motivation. While not a medical diagnosis, the winter blues are a common occurrence that can affect a person’s overall sense of well-being.

According to Dr Grace Mkhwanazi, a clinical psychologist at Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital in Johannesburg, the lack of sunlight during winter affects the levels of important mood-regulating hormones like serotonin and melatonin, which can contribute to the onset of the winter blues.

Mkhwanazi suggests that people who experience these symptoms should try to increase their exposure to natural light by taking walks during the day, sitting by a window, or investing in a light therapy lamp.

To combat the winter blues, some experts suggest turning to pets as a source of comfort and companionship.

Marycke Ackhurst, a pet behaviour expert from Hill’s Pet Nutrition, explains that the basic human need for touch can be fulfilled by stroking, holding, or having a pet sit on your lap.

The companionship of a pet can also ease loneliness, and dogs provide great motivation for healthy exercise, which can help boost mood and ease depression.

While the winter blues can be challenging, it’s important to remember that it’s a common and temporary phenomenon that many people experience.

By implementing simple lifestyle changes and seeking help as needed, people can ease symptoms and get through the winter months feeling happier and healthier.

Picture: Dariusz Grosa Pexels

The latest American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Healthy Minds Monthly Poll findings revealed 86% of pet parents feel their pets have had, and continue to have, a positive impact on their mental health, with the following key benefits:

– help reduce stress and anxiety (69%).

– provide unconditional love and support (69%).

– offer companionship (69%).

– provide a calming presence (66%).

Seasonal changes pose several challenges, so she offers a few suggestions to help you maintain a positive attitude:

Firstly, it is recommended to spend time in the sunlight, indoors or outdoors, as the warmth provided can have a positive effect on an individual’s mood.

Secondly, exercising outside in the sun can not only be beneficial for humans, but for pets too, as they can become lethargic during colder months. Those with pets suffering from joint issues should consult their vet to determine the best exercise activities for them.

Thirdly, one’s diet is just as important throughout winter, including increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and monitoring of pets’ diets.

For those seeking companionship, the Pet Matchmaker app is a useful tool for connecting with adopted pets that match the individual’s personality and lifestyle.

Finally, Ackhurst advises individuals to engage in activities they enjoy with the people they love. These can include a walk or hike with friends, a trip to the cinema, or hosting a game night at home.

While winter may tempt one to hibernate indoors, there is no need to remain isolated until spring arrives.