Beating the Winter Blues
Once the fun of the holidays is a distant memory, you might notice your mood is dropping like the temperatures outside. Between the dark mornings, even darker evenings, and gray skies, this time of year can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD is a type of depression that affects one in five Americans and is most common in the northern parts of the country. The shorter days and reduced exposure to sunlight can negatively affect a person’s internal body clock and hormone levels and lead to this very real mental health issue. Symptoms include fatigue, depressed mood, hopelessness, social withdrawal, mood swings, or changes in appetite and sleep. While only people with severe symptoms are likely to be diagnosed, it’s common for most of us to feel at least some changes in mood with the season.
To beat the winter blues, it’s essential to be mindful about taking care of yourself. Here are a few strategies you can try:
Physical activity is one of the best ways to improve a depressed mood and research has shown that it can be as effective as an antidepressant. When you exercise, your brain chemistry shifts in ways that boost your mood and help you feel more energized.
It might not be all that appealing to get out of bed at 6 am to go on a run when it’s dark and cold outside, so it's important to pick activities you may enjoy and that you’re likely to do consistently. A walk with a friend or a fun winter outdoor activity like ice skating or skiing might do the trick. Or maybe you could give that spin class or workout video you’ve been meaning to do a try.
2. Connect and engage
Don’t hibernate! It might seem appealing to snuggle up on the couch and binge watch Netflix until spring arrives, but staying isolated and avoiding social events won’t help how you’re feeling. Instead, make an effort to reach out to friends and socialize. This may be tough with COVID-19, but even something small like a quick phone or facetime call can improve overall well-being.
3. Check your Vitamin D levels
With less exposure to natural sunlight, your Vitamin D levels may be suffering in the winter months. Vitamin D regulates mood, reduces fatigue, and maintains bone and heart health. You can ask your primary care doctor to check your levels. And if your levels are low, you should consider taking a high quality D3 daily supplement.
4. Light therapy
It may be cold outside, but getting out of the house and spending time in the natural light, especially morning sunlight, can help our mood. It's recommended that everyone get at least 30 minutes of sunlight a day to prevent or help treat seasonal depression.
If getting outside isn’t convenient, consider investing in a light box designed to mimic sunlight and treat SAD. At CWML, we recommend that our patients sit in front of their light box while they do a morning meditation practice. It’s a great way to combine two proven mood boosting strategies. Studies show that light therapy can relieve symptoms after just a few weeks in about 70% of patients. Note: Avoid blue light boxes and choose one that filters out as much of the UV light as possible.
5. Regular sleep
It’s essential to get a regular, moderate amount of sleep every night and for most people that means about 8 hours. According to the NIH, about 70 million Americans struggle with chronic sleep disorders and intermittent sleep problems.
First, make sure to set a regular bedtime and wake up time. Try cutting back on caffeine and electronics before bed and keep your bedroom cool. Incorporating strategies like a relaxation practice may also help calm your mind and body before bed. For more tips on how to manage sleep issues you might want to read this post.
6. Get professional help
If you’re struggling with your mood and are having a hard time handling it on your own, it might be time to reach out to a professional for help. If you’re not sure if you should see someone you can read our guide to figuring out when it’s time to seek therapy.
At the Center for Wise Mind Living we offer psychotherapy, medication management, and coaching. All of our services are available in person or remotely by video and we offer a sliding fee scale to make therapy affordable. In your first meeting with a therapist we’ll assess what’s going on and create a plan to get you back on track.
Written by: Manvi Malhotra & Erin Olivo, PhD
Image by Parkinson's Research Organization