During winter, many of us will experience what is commonly known as the “winter blues.” This phenomenon is often attributed to the seasonal changes in weather, the decrease in daylight hours, and a lack of sunshine. The underlying cause of this condition lies in the reduced exposure to sunlight, which disrupts our body’s internal clock and affects the levels of melatonin and serotonin, two important hormones that play a role in regulating our mood.
While the winter blues are not medically diagnosed, if you find yourself feeling a little sad or down in the dumps, with less energy and drive, there are a few things you can do to help. Marycke Ackhurst, pet behaviour expert from Hill’s Pet Nutrition, says that pets are known to be able to provide us with comfort and help influence our mood. “One of the main reasons pets offer these therapeutic effects is because they fulfill the basic human need for touch. Stroking, holding, or having a pet sit on your lap can rapidly calm and soothe you when you’re stressed or anxious. The companionship of a pet can also ease loneliness, and most dogs provide great motivation for healthy exercise, which can substantially boost your mood and ease depression.”
The latest American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Healthy Minds Monthly Poll findings revealed 86% of pet parents feel their pets have had, and continue to have, a positive impact on their mental health, with the following key benefits:
- Help reduce stress and anxiety (69%)
- Provide unconditional love and support (69%)
- Offer companionship (69%)
- Provide a calming presence (66%)
- Are true friends (63%)
“We don’t have specific SA statistics but would imagine that the picture isn’t vastly different locally,” Ackhurst adds. With this in mind, she provides the following tips to help fight off the winter blues and to keep the spring in your step:
- Getting outside into the sunlight – find a spot inside or outside where the sun can warm your bones. Just as your cat enjoys lazing in the sun, this too can work wonders for your mood.
- Keep your body moving, even though you may be tempted to stay indoors, exercising outside in the sun is not only good for your mood and health but it is good for your dog too. Just like us, our pets tend to become lethargic in the colder months, and if your pet suffers from joint issues, it is even more important to keep them moving. Ackhurst says if your pet does have health issues it is important to consult your vet to determine the extent and type of exercise that is best for them.
- We may be tempted to indulge in unhealthy sugar and carbohydrates when it is cold, but our diet is as important as ever during winter, so including fruits and vegetables is key and don’t forget to monitor your pet’s diet too.
- Mood boosting cuddles can be a click away! If you are wanting to adopt a new pet into your family, download the Pet Matchmaker app, available on the iStore or Google Play Store, to help you find the perfect pet to match your personality and lifestyle. After all, what could be better than cuddling up on the couch with your pet on a cold winter’s night?
- Even though you may feel like hibernating during winter, spending time doing the things you love with the people you love will help to keep your mood on the up. Whether this be meeting friends for a Sunday morning walk or hike, visiting the cinema, or having friends over for a game’s night. There is no need to lock yourself up at home till spring arrives.
If you feel that you or a loved one may be suffering from depression, please contact a medical professional or South African Depression & Anxiety Group (S A D A G) on 080 012 1314 for help.
For more information visit the Hill’s website