With the days getting shorter and the nights getting colder many of us are reminded of the dreaded ‘winter blues’. If you feel like sleeping through the winter or jetting away to the Caribbean you are not alone.
The ‘winter blues’ can be characterized by mild depressive symptoms such as; lack of energy, irritability, appetite changes, or loss in interest in activities you once enjoyed. More severe symptoms such as; feeling depressed most of the day or nearly every day, feeling hopeless, feeling sluggish or agitated, or thoughts of death or suicide may be categorized as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). A subtype of major depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder, comes and goes based upon the seasons. If you find yourself feeling any of the symptoms discussed above more days than not it’s important to reach out to a health professional.
With the change of seasons, many of us are prone to changes in mood, it’s normal to have some days when you feel down. The helpful tips below can help alter your mood and make the winter (somewhat) more enjoyable
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Get outside when possible. Winter can feel harsh and cold, partly due to lack of daylight. Getting out and soaking up rays whenever possible, helps to improve our mood. If you can’t get outside, increase natural light in your home or at work. Sitting by windows will help to soak up the natural rays.
Exercise. Staying busy and increasing endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine is a natural and free antidepressant.
Keep a normal sleep schedule. Even though snow and ice make us want to curl up all morning, it is important to keep a set sleep schedule Monday through Sunday. Hypersomnia, or oversleeping, can be common in the winter but is only going to decrease your mood.
Watch your diet and what you’re eating. We may crave junk food or fast food when we are feeling down, but watch what we eat. Limit your caffeine and sugary drinks as they tend to create a “crash” feeling. Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest and help to increase serotonin or “feel good” hormones in our brain. These go-to brain foods include spinach, sweet potato, broccoli, beans or lentils, and zucchini. Chocolate and almonds can also be a mood-boosting snack.
Spend time with friends and family. Socializing is important for our mental health, especially with only 6-7 hours of daylight a day. Go for coffee, grab lunch or dinner, watch a movie, play board or card games, invest in a new craft or art project, go to a museum, or take up a new hobby together.
Improve your living space. When it is cold, we want to isolate and hibernate. Having a warm, cozy living environment will help to improve our mood. Light scented candles, get a fuzzy and cozy blanket to snuggle in, make your bed every day, and stay organized. Spend quality time there reading a new book, investing in a craft project, take a warm and relaxing bath, or use adult coloring books. Having a place that we enjoy will reflect a better mood.
Change your mindset. If our behavior becomes unmotivated, lethargic, and down, our thoughts may change to reflect this as well. Reframing will help to reverse these negative thinking patterns. Setting small goals each day can help you feel accomplished. Writing a list of grateful aspects can help to improve your perspective. Finding inspirational quotes to remind yourself of the positive can help increase your mood.
Help others. When every other skill will not help to change your mood, giving back may also help. Reach out to nearby animal clinics, salvation army or resale shops, nursing homes, or nonprofit companies. Changing our thoughts may not always help us to see a new perspective, however, volunteering in the community and seeing those who have barriers, obstacles, or less than we do may help us to appreciate our lives a little more.
Author: Stephanie Pruefer, LPC, CADC – Footprints to Recovery – Primary Counselor