Oddly enough, this is not an article on the ever-anticipated eighth and final season of Game of Thrones, even though the incest on the show would probably make it a lot easier to find a cuddle buddy for the colder months.
With New Zealand having just had its hottest summer to date, some of us may be welcoming in the cooler temperatures with open arms as we move through Autumn. However, as we say goodbye to the excessive amount of sweating and hours spent in front of a fan, I feel many of us are losing sight of the fact that winter is an absolute bitch.
Not only do we dislike winter for the bone-chilling temperatures and what feels like never-ending rain, but we also dislike it for the shitty way it makes us feel. Whether we are aware of it or not, the transition into the colder seasons can have a significant effect on our mood and our overall happiness. Before we know it, the ‘winter blues’ have settled in. This will have most likely affected you at some stage in your life, but some struggle with this seasonal change more than others; those being the sufferers of seasonal affective disorder, ironically abbreviating to SAD.
SAD vs Sad
While feeling sad and feeling seasonally depressed may seem similar, knowing the difference is incredibly important. Sadness is a human emotion that usually stems from a specific trigger and passes with time. However, depression is an imbalance of chemicals in the brain and a mental disorder that has an overpowering effect on someone's life. Be patient and understanding with those who you know to or think might struggle with depression, and realise that their feelings of sadness may not pass or resolve as easily as yours do.
SAD, more commonly known as seasonal depression, is a regularly occurring form of depression that usually begins in Autumn before worsening in winter. While it may sound ridiculous to the untrained ear, between 10-20% of people suffer from this disorder, with three-quarters of this statistic being women. It is said to be caused by the decrease in exposure to sunlight that comes with the winter months, with lower amounts of light causing the internal biological clock to shift, and in some cases causing the brain to produce more melatonin. This is the chemical known to affect sleeping patterns, meaning that increased melatonin can make people become sluggish and constantly tired. Hence, the colder temperatures and greyer days can send some into a depressive state, and this is what brings me back to my main and much less scientific point: winter is a nasty bitch.
Therefore, with May being Mental Health Awareness month and a time where we truly start to notice the drop in temperature, I’m here to give you some tips on how to look out for yourself and your mates this winter and maybe even enjoy it.
Tip 1: Get Out and About
As the days get colder and gloomier, it is incredibly tempting to stay huddled up inside all day in the safety of your dressing gown and bed socks. And while this may be a form of self-care some days, make sure it doesn’t become a form of self-destruction on other days. The days where you feel like you don’t want to get out of bed and function are often the days when you need it the most. Find little things that motivate you to get out of the house, whether it be an opportunity to wear that cool winter coat you bought, or the reward of a hot drink to warm your frozen hands, make sure you find joy in the small things.
Tip 2: Get Chatting
If you take anything away from this piece of winter hate mail, please let it be this. As mentioned earlier, winter has a way of getting people down, meaning that it is important that you check in on how the people around you are doing. Mental health is a tough topic for many people to talk about, and it is often shied away from even when you are amongst your closest of friends. So what can you do to get the conversation started? It is often as simple as a “how have you been doing?” and gentle encouragement to delve deeper past the standard “yeah good mate, how are you?” answer. Ways to do this include talking about yourself and your own experiences, asking twice when their first response is “I’m fine,” and addressing the elephant in the room. It might feel rude to ask someone directly about their mental health, but if it’s done in a kind and respectful way, it often gives people the push they need to open up. Either way, regardless of how you start the conversation, be patient and ready to listen.
So what do you do when YOU need to talk? Your first step is to acknowledge that you are not alone in your challenge with mental health, and there is absolutely no shame attached to the way you are feeling. Your mental health is equally as important as your physical health and needs to be exercised and looked after as well. Talking to friends and family is a great outlet, but if you don’t feel comfortable doing so, there are plenty of handy tools that allow you to put your feelings into words. New Zealand has many available helplines, plus the University of Waikato provides students with five free counselling sessions per year.
Tip 3: Stay Active
As touched on in Tip 1, getting out of bed and out of the house is much easier said than done during winter. It means that convincing yourself to get into exercise gear and be active is even harder, but is super important. Exercise pumps blood to the brain allowing you to think more clearly, stimulates chemicals in your brains that improve your mood and increases your core temperature through the extra blood flow – massive hack for the colder months! We're not saying you need to sign up to a gym and start an 8-week body transformation but make an effort to keep the blood moving. That can be as simple as going for a walk around the lake or doing a fun activity like rock-climbing - it's as easy as that.
So what to take away from all this? Participate, Don’t Hibernate. While it may feel like the more comfortable option to shy away from the world this winter, keep your momentum and look out for yourself and your mates. We won’t beat around the bush here, winter fucking sucks, but with a little effort here and there it can suck a whole lot less.
Other Winter-Warming Tips!
- If you’re with Electric Kiwi, buy a heater and blast it during your free hour of power. If you’re not with Electric Kiwi, honestly what are you doing?
- Close your curtains before it gets dark to trap in the heat.
- Invest in bed socks - socks in bed is mostly a big no, but when your curtains are blowing in the breeze that’s seeping through the windows of your shitty flat, you’ve gotta do what you gotta do.
- Find a cuddle buddy - no better warmth than body warmth! You’ve had your fun during summer, but now it’s time to find someone to snuggle up to for the next few months. Of course, this is only until it starts getting a bit warmer again, and your single summer/winter relationship cycle can continue. Disclaimer: if you choose this tip, get rid of the bed socks.
- Buy a hot water bottle! Only $6 from the warehouse, but absolutely priceless in my eyes.
Where to get help:
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email email@example.com or online chat.
Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
What's Up?: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757