As the days get longer and it gets colder outside, it can be easy to fall into the winter blues – a.k.a. the “seasonal slump.” Winter is a hard time for many in terms of physical and mental health. Some have more than just the winter blues and struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a mood disorder that occurs at the same time each year. Also called seasonal depression, it usually starts in the fall and lasts through the winter.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder may include:
- Decreased motivation
- Changes in sleep (usually sleeping more)
- Changes in appetite (usually eating more)
As the winter months start to roll in, be proactive with your health by taking the following steps to improve your mood and avoid the winter blues.
Avoid the Winter Blues
Consider Light Therapy
One of the biggest struggles people face in the winter is the lack of light, as the season consists of shorter days. Many people find that a light therapy box helps with this, which can increase your exposure to the light you are missing. Phototherapy boxes give off light that mimics the sun. Sitting in front of one for 20-30 minutes/day has been shown to improve mood. These boxes provide much more light than regular light bulbs.
Adding physical activity to your routine can help on many different levels. First, it releases feel-good brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, which reduce depression and anxiety. These are great defenses against the winter blues. Additionally, exercise can help burn off those additional holiday calories and continue to improve your overall fitness. Mix things up and try some outdoor activities such as hiking, ice skating or sledding!
Find New Hobbies
Winter can feel long, so engaging in fun indoor activities is key to your mental health. A good book, a challenging puzzle or a new sketch pad can help you stay entertained on long winter days. Hobbies are also stress-relieving and a great break from your daily responsibilities.
Plan Social Activities
It’s easy to pull the blanket over you and stay inside all day. Give yourself something to look forward to by planning an evening out, a coffee date, or even a fun day trip. Getting out of the house is half the battle, so challenge yourself to leave when possible.
Fuel Your Body
Comfort food often creeps into the winter months – cakes, cookies, chips, breads, etc. These foods are generally higher in sugar, fat and calories. Try to choose them sparingly and eat them in moderation, opting for mostly nutrition-packed foods. Aim for a healthy balance of protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Having a structured eating plan or routine can help you stay on track and feel in control of food over the holidays.
Supplement Vitamin D
Most of your body’s vitamin D comes from the sun. During the winter months, the sun’s UV rays are not strong enough to synthesize into vitamin D, but this nutrient is essential for bone and muscle health. It is unclear whether a vitamin D supplement directly affects Seasonal Depressive Disorder, but it may be beneficial to give it a shot.
Since the winter season can feel long, you’ll likely need a variety of different outlets and strategies to stay on track and make it through. Try to be flexible and go with the flow without setting your expectations too high. This season is also about rest and relaxation!