Our moods and emotions are intertwined with the world around us. This is unavoidable. However, you can be mindful of your mood without being captured by it. GO BEYOND the blues and make the best of your winter.
January is considered the most depressing month of the year. Let’s be honest: the weather is cold and miserable, the days are shorter and darker, the holidays are over, and not to mention the holiday weight gain, credit card bills that are now rolling in and the unavoidable return to adult responsibilities. All things considered, I get it! It makes complete sense why you feel down and simply want to curl up on the couch, eat your favorite comfort foods and binge watch your favorite Netflix shows.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is real and at its peak this time of year! Medically speaking, SAD, also known as the Winter Blues, is a type of depression triggered by a change in the seasons. The latest statistics from Mental Health of America highlight that SAD affects approximately 500,000 people in the United States every winter, with rates peaking between December and February. Individuals with a history of year-round depression often find their symptoms worsen in the winter. Additionally, statistics also show that 75% of all SAD sufferers are women.
The causes of Winter Blues vary, ranging from unmet expectations, unrealistic resolutions, loneliness, social media envy, and even overindulgence guilt. Regardless of the underlying reasons, symptoms of seasonal depression are quite standard and include:
- Low energy
- Excessive sleepiness
- Over-eating and weight gain
- Irritable mood
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased craving for sweets, carbohydrates (e.g., bread) and starches (e.g., pasta, rice)
- Feeling apathetic, unmotivated, bored, and less interested in friends and social situations
SAD is linked to two chemicals in the body: serotonin and melatonin. The reduction of sunlight in the winter can lower serotonin levels in our brain, so it’s no wonder that when serotonin, the “feel-good” compound, takes a downward dive our mood does as well. Similarly, melatonin, a hormone that affects mood and sleep patterns which is produced in the darkness, can be excessively produced in the winter. This excess can interfere with our circadian rhythm, or “internal clock,” and alter our sleep patterns, making us want to sleep whenever it’s dark or gray out regardless of the time of day.
Winter Blues can be inevitable, seasons change. Whether we like it or not, winter will come each year, we might as well get prepared to win the battle of the blues. Here are a few tips on how to survive the slump:
1. MASTER YOUR MIND
Archbishop Desmond Tutu stated, “hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” It all starts with your mindset; believing is seeing and yes, it’s that simple. If you believe that you can conquer the winter and beat your blues, then you will. She who believes that she can and she who believes that she cannot are both right. You must first master your mind and go beyond thoughts that limit and render you helpless and hopeless. Redefining rigid thoughts about winter is a good place to start. Instead of seeing winter as something ending or nature dying, try to see it as the season of preparation. It’s from the cold’s cue that the flowers of spring realize they are up next–time to start blooming! Similarly, winter can be your yearly reminder that it’s time to slow down, relax, reflect, rest, recharge and ready yourself to witness the blossoming of your own life.
2. EAT WELL
Eating healthy doesn’t mean restricting yourself to cold salads. Warm, comforting food such as balanced soup, stew and chili can also help you stay mentally and physically healthy. Maintaining a healthy diet at regular intervals will boost and stabilize your mood, increase your energy levels and save you from putting on the dreaded winter weight. It’s common for some people with SAD to experience excessive carbohydrate cravings during winter; fight these cravings by eating fresh fruit and vegetables, which take longer to digest and suppress hunger. Also, limit your sugary caffeine intake. Sipping warm mocha drinks and hot teas with peppermint sticks can spike your insulin levels and drop your blood sugar levels, which contribute to your sense of fatigue.
3. MOVE YOUR BODY
I know, I know, who wants to go to the gym when there are so many more bowls of warm 4-bean chili to be consumed? But physical exercise is a proven depression buster. Try to not let the cold be an excuse for skipping your workout. Take advantage of the surge in mood-enhancing endorphins you get from exercising; this will make you feel happy and block feelings of pain. Start easy if you must; a minute of gentle stretching or jumping jacks is enough to refocus your brain, get your blood flowing and energize your dim mood. Even though venturing outdoors during this chilly weather doesn’t seem super appealing, the exposure to the light is mood-altering for sure.
4. STAY LIT
Turn on more lights. The reduction in daylight is part of the reason people feel mentally defeated during the winter. Light therapy is a non-invasive treatment often used for SAD which involves sitting in front of bright lights. Even if you don’t have SAD, simply turning on extra lights in your house or office can help improve your mood. Since the days become darker sooner this time of year, brighten up your space and your mood by letting in natural sunlight whenever possible. During the day, pull back your curtains and open your blinds. At night, keep your home nicely lit, flipping on lamps or even light a few aromatherapy candles.
5. STAY SOCIAL
It’s tempting to hibernate and avoid going out during winter. Heck, it gets dark at 5pm and takes forever to put on and take off multiple layers of clothing. However, we must take responsibility for our engagement with the world around us. This is especially important in the winter when isolation is most appealing. Force yourself to go to game night and dinner parties. Friends can be energizing, uplifting, and automatic mood-boosters, so don’t choose the couch over connecting with others, try to maintain your favorite social activities and be purposeful about giving and receiving physical affection while there.
6. BE PRESENT
Some things are consistent across seasons. Cultivating a sense of everyday mindfulness helps you to avoid rumination of the past and anxiety about the future. When you’re busy and distracted, you take things for granted; you’re simply not paying attention to the little pleasures in life. Tuning in to all your senses and enjoying every day experiences through taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound can add a new level of appreciation and enjoyment to your cold days.
7. WRITE IT OUT
Feelings need an outlet. Writing is a quick, safe and effective way to process through what you’re feeling and what’s happening in your life. Writing can help you clarify your feelings, gain insight and offer a great way to release some of the “negative” feelings that you’ve been storing in your mind and body this season.
8. TAKE A VACATION
Winter lasts for three months; plan ahead. Save some of your frequent flyers miles and vacation time for the winter months. If you can’t stand the cold, get out of it. A December trip to Florida or Jamaica could be just what you need to make it through the season. A change of scenery can change your perspective andmight be exactly what your mood needs.
9. KEEP A SLEEP SCHEDULE
Let’s face it, sleeping in is pure heaven. But sleeping until noon every day during the winter can turn into a nightmare. Try to adhere to a regular sleeping schedule. It’s fine to give yourself a pass from time to time but hold yourself accountable for getting up and getting moving every day. Trust me, spending a whole day in bed fosters guilt about the things you could or need to be doing.
Our moods and emotions are intertwined with the world around us. This is unavoidable. However, you can be mindful of your mood without being captured by it. Beat the blues and make the best of your winter! Go Beyond the Blues!