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How cold weather can affect mental health: The top things Brits hate about winter

Winter can impact your mental health in several ways.
Winter can impact your mental health in several ways. (Getty Images)

Winter has made itself known in the UK this week, with temperatures plummeting over the weekend and the Met Office issuing an amber snow alert for parts of the country.

Yet, while winter can be a chance to hibernate with a good book and endless cups of tea, there are certain things that Brits detest about the cooler months – including dark mornings and seemingly perennial freezing hands.

According to a new poll from Post Office, nearly half of Brits (49%) say dark mornings are the worst thing about winter, followed by slipping on ice (44%), having a cold face (41%), and dealing with a runny nose (38%).

Nearly a third (31%) said they struggle to get out of their warm bed on a cold winter morning, while 25% hate having chapped lips, and 16% get sick of the travel disruptions.

Over half of those polled (56%) said winter was one of the worst things about living in the UK – and it’s no wonder because the cold weather can actually have a detrimental effect on our mental health.

In fact, one 2022 study found that moving into a cold home can nearly double the odds of experiencing severe mental distress. It added that over one quarter of low income households were inadequately able to heat their home last winter.

Impacts of cold weather on mental health

Counselling Directory member, Natalie Englander, says there are a number of ways that the cold weather can affect our mental health, from feelings of isolation to seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

"SAD is a type of depression that occurs during the winter when daylight hours are shorter. The lack of sunlight exposure can impact things like our circadian rhythms and serotonin levels contributing to symptoms of low mood, fatigue, and changes in sleep patterns," she explains.

"Reduced sunlight exposure means we’re less likely to spend time outdoors when it’s cold, which means we get less exposure to sunlight and potentially lower levels of Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to symptoms of depression."

Sick young Asian woman headache fever cough cold sneezing sitting under the blanket on sofa in living room at home. Healthcare concept.
Colder homes can have a drastic impact on your mental health. (Getty Images)

Englander says that the cold weather also means people are going out and socialising less, which leads to feelings of loneliness.

"Feeling connected to others is really important for our mental health and when we withdraw from others we can be more prone to experiencing low mood," she explains.

Exercise is another part of our lifestyle that is impacted by the cold, as chilly mornings and dark evenings means we’re less likely to exercise outdoors.

Englander adds: "Physical activity is important for our wellbeing and resilience and our mental health can suffer without it in the winter months."

How to look after mental health in winter

Englander says some of the best things you can do for your mental health in the winter is to get adequate sunlight, do regular exercise, maintain social connections, keep up healthy sleeping and eating habits, and practice self care.

"Spend time outdoors in the daytime, and if that’s not possible due to your working hours consider getting a SAD lamp," she suggests. "If you don’t like being outside in the cold for your morning run then consider joining a gym or doing a home workout.

"Keep in touch with your family and friends and look after your wellbeing by making sure you’re looking after your nutritional needs and your sleep needs. It’s also important to manage your stress levels with enjoyable hobbies, practicing things like mindfulness."

Concept of cold weather, flu virus, frosty spring
It's important to keep in touch with family and friends to avoid loneliness in the cold months. (Getty Images)

If you find your mental health is still suffering, Englander suggests speaking to your GP or a mental health professional who can help with coping strategies.

She adds: "Your GP can put you in touch with your local NHS Talking Therapies service where you can look to access free Cognitive Behavioural Therapy."

If you are in need of support, you can call the Samaritans day or night, 365 days a year for free on 116 123 or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.

Mind's helpline is 0300 123 3393, their email address is info@mind.org.uk and their website is www.mind.org.uk.

If you think you may be suffering from mental health problems, you are also advised to speak to your GP.

Mental Health: Read more

Watch: Cold weather continues to grip northern England