Managing low moods in winter


4 minutes

12 July 2022

Dog looking at laptop under doona

Does winter give you the grumps? If mid-year chills chip away at your happiness and optimism, it may seem like there's nothing to do but count down the days to spring.

About half of all Australians report oversleeping, overeating, and having less energy2 during winter and about one-third experience reduced enjoyment, low motivation, feeling down or depressed, or increased irritability.

Seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that affects people specifically during the winter months, is considered rare in Australia. Reports suggest that around 1 in 300 people suffer from the condition1. Like most mood disorders though, a diagnosis is simply the extreme end of a spectrum, and many Australians creep up that spectrum to some degree at this time of year. Fortunately, there are several solutions available when we're missing the sun.

In this article

Causes of 'the winter blues'

If your positivity and enthusiasm has gone into hibernation, there are likely a number of biological, environmental, and psychological factors at the root. Some of these might include:

  • Vitamin D deficiency: Less sunlight means less vitamin D, and this particular deficiency has been linked to low moods and a higher risk of depression.3
  • Reduced sunlight affecting your brain chemicals: Decreased exposure to sunlight means your brain might be producing less serotonin (associated with mood) and more melatonin (associated with sleep).4
  • Less social interaction and exercise: When it's cold or rainy outside, you're probably seeing fewer friends and doing less exercise, both of which can affect your mental health.5
  • Negative thoughts and perceptions: If you approach winter with pessimism and resistance, you can create a self-perpetuating cycle of negative thoughts and feelings that is hard to shake.

Vitamin D and sunlight

Since there are many factors involved in an emotional slump, there are also many angles you can approach it from. A multi-pronged strategy is your best chance at improving your mood and thriving despite the weather.

Vitamin D supplements are only helpful if you have a deficiency3, so consider getting tested by your GP, particularly if you live in the southern states or work indoors. Sun on your skin is an effective way to get your body to make its own vitamin D.

Sunlight also hits specialised receptors in the back of your eyes that tell your brain to make serotonin, a chemical involved in mood regulation and feelings of calm and happiness. This also triggers your body's normal body clock rhythms, making sure you feel alert and sleepy at the right times. If sunlight is not easy to get where you are, light therapy might do the trick too.

Social support and exercise

While we tend to dial back on socialising and exercise in winter, it's actually the time we need them most. Both have numerous benefits for your mood and mental health. If you can embrace outdoor exercise with friends or family, you'll get the combined benefits of sunlight, nature, exercise, and social connection!

If you don't feel the weather is within your range of 'acceptable' for outdoor activity (and who could blame you?), consider what kinds of indoor activity you might enjoy and stick to. Dancing, yoga, and aerobics can all be done from the comfort of your own home, and YouTube has a vast selection of fitness channels and classes. Virtual reality games9 are also a fun way to work out without leaving home. There's also plenty of indoor sports to consider such as netball and soccer.

Shifting your mindset

Your thoughts and beliefs directly affect your mood, so taking a positive approach to winter may help combat your seasonal sadness. Scandinavians experience long, dark, cold winters, so they've developed some approaches worth noting.

Koselig10 is a Norwegian concept that focuses on finding joy in winter. It involves creating a cosy, comfortable environment that invokes intimacy and warmth. Koselig includes the social aspect of sharing with loved ones, and connecting with nature and the outdoors.

Hygge11 is a Danish custom that embraces winter in a similar way: A crackling fireplace is hygge, cuddling under a fluffy blanket is hygge, sharing a pot of soup and a board game with friends is certainly hygge.

If you can make your environment inviting and cosy and find aspects of winter to embrace and look forward to, this may well improve your mood and help you find the joy in the season.

When to seek support

If you're experiencing any of the following, it may be time to consider speaking to your GP.

  • Persistent low mood or negative thoughts that won't shift
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
  • Extreme or uncontrollable mood swings
  • Symptoms that affect your work, study, or relationships
  • Self-medication with alcohol or drugs
  • Inability to complete normal daily activities or handle everyday situations

Your GP may suggest a combination of strategies that might include:

  • Seeing a psychologist or counsellor
  • Taking an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication
  • Making lifestyle changes

You can also reach out to helplines such as:

Beyond Blue - Call 1300 22 4636 or chat online
Lifeline - Call 13 11 14 or chat online

How can health insurance help?

Your mental health is an essential part of your overall wellbeing. HBF can provide cover for:

  • Seeing a psychologist. HBF extras cover can give you benefits towards visits with a psychologist or clinical psychologist, up to your annual limit.
  • Hospital psychiatric services. HBF Gold hospital elevate cover can pay benefits for hospital psychiatric services to treat mental health conditions such as depression.

Learn more about HBF mental health cover and how it could help you.

If you're an HBF member, you can check what you're covered for by logging on to myHBF or calling us on 133 423.

Use extras cover to address low mood

Prioritise your wellbeing by choosing HBF extras cover and start claiming on mental health services. Find out more .

Find out more

1ABC - Sad Disorder
2Healthline – Winter Blues in Australia
3Healthline - Sunlight and Vitamin D
4Healthline - Light Therapy
5Healthline - Benefits of sunlight for depression
6Mayoclinic - Social Support for Depression
7Healthdirect - Exercise and Mental Health
8Healthline - Vitamin D 101
9Lifehacker - VR Games that give you a great workout>
10The Scandinavian Feeling - Koselig
11Visit Denmark - What is Hygge?


This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.