13 December 2021

By Shannon Phillips 


For many people, winter can be a challenging time. We’re greatly influenced by our environment, so it’s only natural that the changing seasons bring with them fluctuations in our mood, energy, social activity, and appetite. This can be particularly difficult for those who are already managing an ongoing physical or mental health condition where symptoms can be exacerbated by these darker, colder months. 


Most of us are likely to be experiencing a touch of ‘The Winter Blues’, however if the changes in seasons are impacting your daily quality of life, you may be experiencing a type of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD for short). 

Whilst SAD can be experienced in any season, Winter-SAD is most common. Winter-SAD is largely triggered by reductions in natural daylight, which consequently can disrupt our production of serotonin and melatonin, which are respectively important for the regulation of our mood and natural sleep-wake cycle (or circadian rhythm). 

Symptoms of SAD include: 

  • Lack of energy
  • Sleep problems, such as sleeping more or less than usual, difficulty waking up, or difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Changes in your appetite, for example feeling more hungry or wanting more snacks
  • Finding it hard to concentrate
  • Not wanting to see people
  • Feeling sad, low, tearful, guilty or hopeless
  • Losing interest in sex or physical contact
  • Suicidal feelings 


While we can’t all fly to a tropical island to spend our winters, these mindfulness practices can help to alleviate and ease your winter experience. Here are 7 ways mindfulness can help you manage SAD:

1. Find Happiness Despite External Circumstances

When you open your curtains to clear skies and sunshine, how often do you catch yourself thinking, "today is going to be a good day"? Undeniably, it’s a natural mood boost, but perhaps become curious to the extent your happiness is attributed to external circumstances beyond your control. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. Mindfulness helps us to practice returning to the present moment, accepting it (however it arises) and working with what we have right now. 

Mindfulness author Mark Williams explains this it in a wonderfully succinct way:

"If you rely solely on outside circumstances changing in order to feel happy and energised, you’ll have to wait a very long time. And while you wait, constantly hoping that the sun will come out or wishing you could travel to the peace and tranquillity of an imagined future or an idealised past, your actual life will slip away unnoticed. Those moments might as well not exist at all."

2. If You Can’t Hibernate, Pace!

Friendly reminder: you are a mammal. And what do most mammals do in winter? They stock up on food, get cosy, and hibernate. Most species do not carry the same amount of gusto, motivation, and productivity they would in the summer months. In our modern-day society however, humans tend to push on with the same 9 to 5 routine. 

While we can’t all take three months off work and family duties etc., we can review our energy levels and expectations. Think about how can you build in more rest breaks throughout your day. Is there anything in your day that could be made a little bit easier and less time / energy consuming? What would it look like to go a little more slowly? Check out Top Tips for Pacing for more on this topic. 

3. Eat Mindfully 

As the seasons change, so does our appetite. You may be craving energy-dense foods such as simple carbohydrates and sugar, and much less of the good stuff such as proteins, fats, and vegetables. It’s particularly important to be mindful of what we eat in the winter months, as these types of inflammatory foods can worsen our symptoms. Bring attention and awareness to cravings and notice whether this is a genuine desire, or a habitual response to feeling discomfort. 

Being more aware of our bodily sensations can help us understand whether we really want that apple crumble and custard, or whether we are just looking for a way to warm up or de-stress from a difficult conversation. When you do sit down to enjoy a meal, experiment with eating more slowly and mindfully: try noticing the appearance, smell, taste, and texture of our food. How does it make you feel? 

4. Emergency Mindfulness 

Mindfulness is a ‘practice’ because the greatest benefits arise when it has been consistently practiced over time. Our brains are malleable, and thanks to neuroplasticity, we can alter our brain’s habitual responses to situations, becoming less emotionally reactive. That said, emergency mindfulness is a very useful tool, no matter your experience level. 

For some, anxiety levels peak when the clocks turn back in October. Sometimes a ‘formal’ meditation is too much in these moments, but mindfulness tools can be used to ground yourself back in your body. Here is a practice you can try: 

  1. Wherever you are, stop and notice gravity. Feel yourself sink into it
  2. Notice where your body makes contact with the floor, the chair, or the table. 
  3. Notice the temperature of these surfaces. The texture. 
  4. What sounds can you hear around you? What sounds can you hear a little further away? 

Even just a few moments of returning to the present moment can calm our nervous system and press pause on that pesky fight or flight response. 

5. Connect with Others 

In winter, we tend to retreat inwards and withdraw from others, especially if we are feeling tired, down, and anxious. We are social creatures, so it’s important to try to maintain some level of connection with others, even when we shy away from it. If meeting up with people in ‘real life’ isn’t accessible to you or feels too challenging, why not connect with people online instead? 

One positive to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic has been advances in technology and our ability to do almost anything virtually. Why not arrange a virtual theatre visit with a friend, a coffee chat or even cosy film night? (Bonus points for being able to socialise in your pyjamas). 

If you’d like to meet others interested in mindfulness, why not join our free online Community of Practice? We run regular free events such as online group meditations, get-togethers for those living with pain and illness, and meditation support clinics where you can bring along any questions you have about your practice. 

Another benefit of our online Community of Practice is that we have members from all over the world. Why not bring to mind others around the who may be going through the same difficulties as you. Doing this can help us regain a sense of perspective, compassion, and connection.

6. Get Out and About 

MIND.org writes, "When light hits the back of your eye, messages go to the part of your brain that controls sleep, appetite, sex drive, temperature, mood and activity. If there isn't enough light, these functions can slow down and gradually stop.

It’s important to get out during the daytime as much as we can, and where possible, without wearing sunglasses. That 30-minute walk that you don’t feel you have time for could be a real game-changer when built into your daily routine. Not only will you be helping to regulate your body clock, absorbing Vitamin D, and benefitting from the fresh (albeit freezing) air, but you could also take it as an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Read more about mindfulness in nature here.

7. Finding Beauty in Winter 

Following on from the above, it’s important to balance out our hard-wired negativity bias (you can thank evolution for that) by making a conscious effort to seek out the positive. Can you find the beauty in winter? On your mindful walk, can you pick out the glistening frost, the crispy leaves, the snow on the ground which is all so unique to this time of year? Don’t just notice it… but STAY with it. How does it feel to attend to this? 

It can be easier to pick out the positive when we are relatively well. On a better day, why not create a winter ‘bucket list’ of all the things you can enjoy and tick them off as you go along. 

What Other Help is Out There? 

Mindfulness is just one of the ways you can support yourself through winter. For more information and treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder, you can read this information pack by Mind.org. Immediate support (for yourself or someone you know) can be found at:

Samaritans: 24-hour emotional support for anyone struggling to cope.

CALL - 116 123 (freephone)

EMAIL - [email protected] (24-hour response time)


SHOUT: 24-hour text support 

Text 85258