Do the short white and gray days, and long black nights of winter give you the blues? If you find yourself sadder and less motivated during the winter, you may be struggling with SAD (seasonal affective disorder) also known as seasonal depression.
SAD is a form of depression that affects people at the same time each year, typically during the shorter days of late fall through winter.
There are things you can do to protect yourself from the winter blues and improve the seemingly endless season. Here are some suggestions.
Acknowledge. They say forewarned is forearmed, right? Well, acknowledging that a rough patch likely lies ahead can motivate you to take it on, not just let it take you by surprise (when it really isn’t) and swamp you. If you think you’ll just be fine this year, that it’s all good and it won’t get the better of you, you’re setting yourself up to make it worse than it needs to be. If you expect it to be fine with no changes on your part, you’ll feel betrayed when the depression slips in. If you feel like you’ve failed, you’ll feel worse. Vicious cycle. Know it’s coming. Have a plan. But don’t dwell on it. I’ve fallen into that trap; you can read more about it here.
Move. You’ve probably heard it. Because it’s true. Physical activity is great for elevating and maintaining mood. Exercise is a great antidepressant. For some, regular exercise is just as effective. And here’s an important factor to acknowledging the winter blues are a possibility. Establishing an exercise regimen before the days get shorter will not only be way easier than after your motivation bottoms out, it will also give you a better chance to be as healthy as possible. Don’t underestimate the benefits of walking. My healthy addiction over the cold-weather months? Walking the indoor track at the local high school, open to the public in the evening of school days.
Emerge. You know how short days are linked to SAD? Well, lack of sunlight seems to be the largest part of the issue. So, while my indoor-track habit has had great effects on my emotional and physical health (unexpectedly much on my waistline, but that’s a different blog post… Though feeling we’re looking our best does have a positive impact on our mood, so…), walking outdoors when weather permits during daylight hours, can have an even better effect. Cross-country skiing. Snowshoeing. Two good options to get both aerobic exercise and sunlight.
Supplement. One important function of sunlight is vitamin D synthesis. Our bodies need sufficient vitamin D for various areas of health, including mental health and mood regulation. There are three ways for us to get it: food, sun exposure, and supplements. We generally don’t eat enough foods that are naturally good sources. Milk, various cereals, and many brands of orange juice are fortified with vitamin D. But sun exposure is an important factor in maintaining healthy levels. As most diets don’t include sufficient sources of vitamin D, and it’s particularly difficult to get enough skin sun exposure in winter, taking a vitamin D supplement is important.
Associate. It’s important to get up and get moving. It’s important to get outside. It’s also important to get up and go out to see others. It’s difficult to make the effort to socialize when everything requires so much effort. But we’re wired for relationship. We’re not as healthy on our own. While social media is okay to keep in touch with friends and relatives far away (and really bad for making you feel worse if you’re comparing your life to carefully curated images and posts that promote image over reality), it doesn’t compare to being with people. IRL as they say.
Remember. It may feel like it, but winter really doesn’t last forever. Spring returns. You won’t always feel the ache of cold seeping into your bones. Soon you won’t have to both wake and eat dinner in the dark. Sunshine and warmth aren’t just a distant memory, but are on their way back to warm your body, heart, mind, and soul.
So, want to protect yourself from winter blues? Don’t trust your feelings, but get ahead of them and take charge. It’s tempting to stay holed up when it’s cold, but we need to get up and get moving. Inside and outside, to help our mood. If we start feeling depressed, it’s tempting to isolate. But doing so just gets us more stuck in the sadness we want to escape.
We’ve got this. It might not be perfect, but we can do our best to be as healthy as possible.
Care to share ways you protect yourself from winter blues? Comment below!