As the seasons change and we move towards winter many people can struggle with their mood and motivation. This is in part due to changes in light levels and intensity.  Also many find the run up to Christmas stressful and we are often more prone to winter bugs like flu.  This is why it is important to make an extra effort to be kind to yourself and take extra care of your mental and physical wellbeing.

1. Sunlight & light therapy
During the winter months the days will shorten in the lead up to the winter solstice.  This year it falls on the 21st December but it may take a couple of months before you begin to notice an increase in day length.  Not only do the days get shorter in length but the intensity of the light also reduces, meaning the sunshine is not as bright. This has a known affect on the brain and can affect energy levels, sleep, appetite, mood and motivation.  This is why it is important to make the most of the sunshine during the daytime.

Try to get out for at least 30 minutes a day in the sunshine and, where possible, have curtains and blinds open so that you can feel the sunlight indoors.  If you are working indoors then try to sit near a window so that you can get some natural sunlight.  If you are affected by the lack of light then you may want to consider purchasing a lightbox.  These boxes mimic the light of the sun and, for many, this can help reduce some of the negative symptoms and changes to mood.  When purchasing a lightbox check that the box is certified for treating SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and aim for a light intensity of at least 10, 000 lux.  
2. Maintaining healthy routines
During the winter months it is especially important to keep up your normal, healthy routines.  Ensure that you are retiring to bed at a reasonable time and waking in the morning.  Aim to be up, washed and dressed by 9 am so that you can open all the curtains and let in the sunlight.  

3. Eating regular meals
Low mood can affect appetite so you may notice either an increase or a decrease in your appetite.  You may also experience cravings for more carbohydrates in your diet, such as bread, sweets, pasta and rice.  These are all good for energy but try to mix these up with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and some protein rich foods.  Also try not to overindulge in sweet or fatty snacks as these will not give you the sustained energy boost you need to function during the day.  You are more likely to get a burst of energy which quickly runs out and may leave you feeling more sluggish and unmotivated.

Also make sure you are keeping to regular mealtimes and keep your fluid intake up with regular drinks.  Avoid drinking too many caffeinated drinks as they could make you feel anxious and restless.  Caffeine can be found in tea, coffee, hot chocolate, cold and flu remedies and energy drinks.  Also try not to overindulge in alcohol as alcohol acts as a depressant to the brain and nervous system and may make your mood feel worse.

4. Sleep
Try to maintain good sleeping habits such as the ones suggested here.  While the days are shorter it is especially important to ensure that you are waking early in the mornings so that you can be up, washed and dressed by 9 am.  This will help to maximise the amount of sunlight you get and this will help to regulate your sleep.  If you are having difficulty in sleeping try to avoid naps during the day as this may make the issue worse.  

5. Social contacts
Although you may not feel in the mood for socialising, isolating yourself is likely to make your symptoms worse. If you feel safe doing so then you may find it helpful to let friends and family know that this time of year is difficult for you.  This is especially important if you live alone.  If this is the case try to find an activity that encourages you to leave the house daily. This activity doesn't have to be anything big, it could be something simple like walking to the shop to buy milk or a newspaper.  

Social media can also supplement this social contact and sites such as Elefriends, the Big White Wall, the IRC Village and Sane all offer internet forums for people experiencing mental health issues.  Please check the forum guidelines and ground rules before signing up as these will explain the kind of support the forums can offer.  As said, these websites can act as a supplement to social contacts but try not to use these to replace face to face contacts.  Sites such as Friends in Need and Meetup also help people to form face to face social contacts. 

6. Getting help
If you are struggling with your mood and energy levels for more than a couple of weeks then it may be helpful to speak with your doctor.  It maybe that there is a physical cause for these changes, such as a thyroid issue or low vitamin D levels, and these can be checked through a simple blood test.  Your doctor can also help you to monitor your symptoms and may suggest support groups, counselling, changes to your diet and exercise level or offer you some medication to help with your mood.  

You can also access support through a number of helplines such as the ones found on this contact sheet.