5 Professional Tips To Get You Through The Winter Blues
As kids, “winter blues” wasn’t really a thing. How could it be when we actually had time and energy to get outside and go sledding, build snowmen, or have snowball fights? Now as adults, the winter appeal has pretty much worn off. Colder months means shoveling our cars out of the driveway, paying an arm and a leg for our heating bills, and dealing with the holiday hangover. And for some, winter blues are discovered to actually be a seasonal affective disorder (SAD). According to Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of SAD include excessive tiredness, feeling depressed, low energy, an increase or decrease in appetite, and feeling hopeless. Sound like anyone you know?
The good news is that it is common and treatable. “It is important to treat SAD, because all forms of depression limit people’s ability to live their lives to the fullest, to enjoy their families, and to function well at work,” says Deborah Pierce, MD, MPH, clinical associate professor of family medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in Rochester, New York.
Luckily, you don’t just have to accept this reality that life will be blah until the warmer months come around. With these five proven tips, brighter days and a sunnier outlook are right around the corner!
Take advantage of the sunlight
Winter brings on dreaded gloomy skies and shorter nights. Not to mention freezing temperatures; it’s no wonder we just want to stay inside and hibernate! Because of this lack of sunlight, it’s important that we take advantage of the sun that we do get — no matter how little it is. Not only that, but take things up a notch. Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind, recommends getting outside midday or on sunny days and doing something physical.
“It can be hard to resist the urge to stay under the duvet when it’s cold and dark outside, but research shows that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression,” says Buckley. “It can also help you sleep better, which in itself boosts mood. There is an added bonus that taking up a new sport or activity may help you to meet new people and give you something to look forward to.” We’re not saying to only do something active outside; making it to the gym counts too. If you are doing something active outside, though, a walk is a great place to start.
Talk to a medical professional
Since SAD is a form of depression, it’s important to seek professional help for it from a therapist or doctor. They can provide you with a clear diagnosis and the steps needed to improve the situation. Plus, if your symptoms carry on into the warmer months, this dialogue could be essential to figuring out if there’s a greater issue at play. “There are a number of screening questions that can help determine if someone is depressed,” Dr. Pierce says. “Your doctor will be able to sort out whether you have SAD as opposed to some other form of depression.” Therapy is something few people regret, so you might even choose to stick with it, year-round.
Be sure to reach out to friends and family and stay connected this winter as well. They may also be suffering with the winter blues. Maintaining those close connections will help you through difficult times and create a positive outlook on your mood and outlook, according to Kasandra Monid, wellness coach of ThinkLife Coaching.
Try light therapy
If the sun won’t come to us, we can at least get artificial sunlight or “light therapy.” And yes, that is a real thing. According to Healthline, the light mimics actual sunlight. People usually begin the treatment of sitting near a light box in the fall and continue until early spring. A typical session lasts for about 10 to 15 minutes, though some experts encourage more. “Get up early and use a bright light with a UV filter for 30 minutes before going to work,” says Dr. Robert Levitan, the Cameron Wilson chair in depression research at the University of Toronto and CAMH to Global News. He adds that you don’t have to stare into it directly; you can sit and eat your breakfast or read the paper while it’s on.
Winter doesn’t just have to be a time of cold weather and hibernation; you can also use it as a time to focus on taking care of yourself. This time is perfect for things like hot baths, getting cozy by a fire, and drinking hot chocolate or mulled wine. But self-care isn’t just pampering. It’s also journaling, cleaning up your space, and providing a doable routine for yourself that checks off all the boxes for what you need to do to have a better life. Kick it up a notch and use this time to focus on your health. “Activities that promote mind-body connection, which helps us to stay grounded and connect with ourselves include meditation, yoga, tai chi, and qigong,” says Monid to Global News.
Boost your body’s immune system by getting a good night’s sleep. It can also reduce SAD symptoms when you are better rested and energized. As an added plus, “keeping a regular sleep schedule will expose you to light on a consistent basis,” says Monid. Yep, it’s probably best for our bodies and our brains to quit napping in the afternoon.
Take care of your diet
We’ve all heard about using the winter months as a time to work on your “summer body,” but this year, use it as a time to improve your SAD. And if you happen to get a healthier body that looks the way you want it to in a swimsuit in the process, then so be it.
Nutritional therapist Natalie Lamb shared her tips on managing SAD with a healthy diet with Express. “Firstly, ditch the processed foods and enjoy an organic wholefood diet high in vegetables, meats, fish, legumes and healthy fats – this should be able to sustain you for longer and prevent the energy dips and cravings for sugary treats or refined carbohydrates.” It’s also important to have a diet rich in omega-3’s as it provides the brain with essential fatty acids that keep depression at bay.
You may want to ditch the alcohol, too. Not only can it create an imbalance to our gut flora and create damage to the gut lining, says Lamb, but too much consumption makes us feel depressed. If you’ve ever felt down after a night of drinking, then you know what we mean. “Hangover anxiety” as it’s commonly called, can lead you to feel down since alcohol is actually a depressant. If you are going to drink, try to limit it and keep yourself hydrated as you party.
Sometimes feeling depressed can be isolating, but knowing that you are one of many suffering from this can be comforting. It really is true that misery loves company. But use this time to get together with others who might be feeling similarly down and create group routines to lift your spirits. A group chat with your sad gals might be just the thing you need — together you can go to yoga classes, pamper yourselves, or dine out at brunch. Sometimes all you need to do to feel better is be around people who you love — or like a lot. Start seeing your BFFs more — you’ll all be better for it.