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The winter blues

Photograph: Aina Masood

Text: Aina Masood

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is sometimes known as "winter depression" because the symptoms are usually more apparent and more severe during the winter. Psychologist Aina Masood offers us some helpful tips.

In the late hours of 2 November 2019, I landed in Aalborg to be with my husband, Taha. The following days were spent getting to know the city, breathing the crisp, chilly autumn-ridden air and sipping hot chocolate. I met Taha's friends and had interesting conversations that went something like this:

"How do you like the weather?"

"I love it!" (not a typical response)

"I wonder if your opinion remains the same after you have seen the summer."

"Um okay."

Dealing with the blues

A year has gone by. I have seen summer and winter is here again, and my love for winter prevails. As you might have guessed, I am a winter person. I love sweaters and warm clothes, cookies and hot-chocolates, books and tea, and blankets. Arriving in Jutland and expecting not to enjoy the winter left me with unease, but my love for winter continued. This does not mean that I don't get winter blues.

'Vinter Depression' or as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) calls it 'Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)' is as real as it gets. It can manifest as sadness and lack of energy/motivation, it can also impair one's ability to function fully as an individual. This is probably a good time to set an appointment with your therapist.

Denmark has cold, grey winter days where we are engulfed by fog or blown-away by strong winds on sun-less days. It is normal to experience a lack of energy, weakness, more need for sleep, increased appetite (especially for sweets), avoiding people and lesser desire for sex. It is important, during these times, to recognise the 'WHY' and 'MAKE A PLAN'.

SAD symptoms are linked but not limited to minimal exposure to the sun. This can result in a lack of vitamin D, which affect our circadian rhythms and might cause mood problems.

Here are some tips to help you deal with winter blues:

#1 Identify the triggers and the symptoms.

#2 Plan your days.

#3 Be kind - We tend to be hard on ourselves and blame ourselves for all things bad. Be

kind to yourself and how your body is dealing with something it does not have control

over, in this case, the weather.

#4 Mindfulness - If lack of motivation leads you to think that you are a failure and you are

not capable of doing anything, you might just be misidentifying the winter blues as

something more permanent and internal - beware of such thoughts.

#5 Talk to yourself. Invest in a journal or write an email to yourself.

#6 Be like the Danes - have hyggelige evenings with books or Netflix series to cope with

short, dark days. Allow yourself space and time to do that because it's okay to relax and

enjoy a slow day.

#7 Light up the candles, the fireplace or both.

#8 Make a conscious decision of being active every day. This can be going for a walk,

cycling, cardio, yoga or Zumba at home.

#9 Set up cosy coffee meetups (virtual, if necessary).

#10 Invest in a SAD lamp for some light therapy to regulate your body's natural rhythms.

#11 If the symptoms seem to be severe, consult your GP for a Vitamin D prescription and

take care of your dietary needs by including vegetables that carry high levels of

Vitamin D: spinach, kale, okra, collards, and various beans.

My plan for this winter is to stock up on books, enjoy walks in the evening with fewer people (COVID-safe), more Christmas lights, go to bed at an earlier hour, and try out a new hobby.

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