Small comforts will see us through winter and the constant ‘permacrisis’

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Food and family time helps to get through winter times

Brits will turn to movies, family time - and comfort food to get them through a gloomy winter, according to research.

A new study of 2,000 adults found 57 per cent actively look for pick-me-ups when the nights grow longer, and days grow colder to boost their moods.

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Watching a movie (26 per cent), spending time with family (24 per cent), eating comfort food (23 per cent) and fluffy socks (19 per cent) were comforts people seek to see them through the colder months.

Psychologist Dr Meg Arroll, who is working with Healthspan Vitamin D which commissioned the research, said: “Often small pleasures remind us of pleasant memories, and so act as a mental comfort blanket.

“Cosy socks and jumpers can be particularly soothing and joyous because as young infants we relied on physical touch to bond with our primary caregivers.”

“Finding relief from the constant ‘permacrisis’ of the last few months and winter can be a particularly challenging time.

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“Positive distractions such as watching a favourite movie and spending time with loved ones are both excellent ways of giving yourself a break from chronic, heightened stress.”

More than half of those surveyed (54 per cent) said the reason they looked for a winter pick me up was to boost their mood.

A huge 86 per cent of respondents believe it’s important to look after their mental health during the gloomy winter months.

As the nights draw in and winter settles in, try the below:

Stay active and try out JOY - a new 8-minute workout

Any sort of physical exercise, whether it’s a brisk walk, the gym or yoga, will help to increase serotonin levels, improve energy, and help sleep.

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However, 31 per cent of adults say they exercise less in winter and four in 10 feel more lethargic than at other times of the year.

Dr Meg Arroll said: “We spend a great deal of time in our own heads, so to prevent winter angst overtaking you, turn the tables and use your body to help your mind.

“We tend to focus on how the mind can affect the body in terms of health and wellbeing, but the body can also impact the mind in surprising ways – something called ‘embodied emotion.”

“I like to use the mnemonic JOY to help remind me of this: Just Open Yourself. Think about how someone looks when they are joyful – their posture and face is generally open.

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“Copy this and see how you feel, think about opening-up your shoulders and chest, your face by lifting your head up and smiling, and you can even throw open your arms and swing them around.”

Celebrate winter foods without the guilt

Dr Meg said: “The survey clearly highlighted how comfort food is going to play a big role this winter with 23 per cent saying this will be their go-to, to help them through the winter months.

“Cost will be an option making meals stretch, cooking powerhouse foods rich in key nutrients. Key here is not to label foods we eat and adapt everyday dishes we enjoy by tweaking them to make them healthier.”

Rob Hobson, Healthspan head of nutrition, explains: “It’s no surprise that so many people identified comfort foods as a way of beating winter blues and maintaining their mental health.

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“However, redefining what comfort actually means is important as certain foods can make matters worse.

“Forget sugary foods, burgers and take-aways as this source of comfort is short-lived and often laced with guilt.

“Comfort foods should be comforting, which means nurturing and nourishing you with the key nutrients that will support your health and well-being.

“Savoury flavours and umami are perfect and can be found in bowl foods like soups, broths, casseroles, stews and curries.”

Vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin

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Nearly one in five (18 per cent) of those polled said they take a vitamin D supplement as a pick-me-up during the colder months.

Dr Sarah Brewer, Medical Director at Healthspan said: “Our Vitamin D levels plummet during winter when sunlight is too weak to stimulate its synthesis in our skin.

“While vitamin D is best known for promoting the absorption of calcium for strong bones and teeth, it also plays an important role in mood regulation.

“Taking a vitamin D3 supplement helps to replenish falling levels and helps to perk us up and keep us feeling on an even keel throughout the depths of winter.”

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“Try Healthspan’s Vitamin D Gummies (£8.95, which contain the optimum strength of vegan vitamin D3.

Vitamin N – Get out in Nature

SAD is more than just longing for sunshine and has similar effects to depression. It can bring irritable feelings, lethargy, as well as craving sugary meals and weight gain. Sunshine does have a positive effect on our mood though.

Less morning and evening sunshine can lead to fluctuating levels of serotonin, linked to mood stability and healthy sleeping patterns.

Getting as much natural light as possible during the day can help, with the light shining on the back of the eye reducing the levels of the hormone melatonin.

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Almost a fifth of those surveyed (19 per cent) still spend time outdoors during winter to help them through the season.

Get organized and plan things to look forward to

Christmas (29 per cent) and seeing loved ones over the holiday season (25 per cent) are what many love about the winter months.

Dr Meg said: “There are so many amazing things about the colder seasons, and I would recommend focusing on the senses to help you identify what you love about this time of year.

“Savour the anticipation – we all need something to look forward to, and research shows that anticipation can help us cope with uncertainty, gives us a grounded sense of hope and also allocates cognitive and emotional resources for future events.

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"Therefore, envelope yourself in Christmas and wintertime anticipation, knowing that this simple act of savouring the future is boosting your mental health.”

Try this exercise by Dr Meg: Start with sight – what are the sights in autumn and winter that warm your cockles? Is it the changing colours of the leaves, the hue of winter sun, or the look of a frosty garden.

Then smells – do you like the smell of open fires for instance?

Finish the exercise with the sense of sound, touch and taste to create a 360 vision of your own tailored winter pick-me-ups.

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