The rush and excitement from the holidays are over. The gifts have been unwrapped and all the pretty lights and decorations have been stowed away. Radio stations have stopped playing their festive cheers and commercials and advertisements have stopped telling us how it is the “most wonderful time of the year.” We rang in the New Year and set our resolutions. Most of us have vowed to make positive changes in the New Year or to “turn over a new leaf.” While some might feel excited, empowered and energized with the start of the New Year, others can feel the exact opposite.
The weather is colder, the days are shorter and many struggle to maintain a happy, healthy mindset. This time of year, during the cold, dank, dreary months of winter, seasonal affective disorder, SAD, sets in for many people. Individuals who suffer from SAD may experience symptoms like extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating, low motivation and weight gain. Even if you don’t suffer from SAD, the winter months can still be tough for most individuals. The good news is, there are ways to manage symptoms of SAD and depression. Here are a few ways you can battle the winter blues:
- Exercise- A 2005 study from Harvard suggests walking fast for about 35 minutes a day five times a week, or 60 minutes a day three times a week improved symptoms of mild to moderate depression.
- Surround Yourself With Good People– If there are people who irritate you or make you feel badly about yourself, curtail the time you spend with them (if you must spend time with them at all), and spend more time with people who bring out the best in you. Who you surround yourself with is so important, make sure they are people who love and support you and are not toxic.
- Turn on the tunes– In a 2013 study, researchers showed that listening to upbeat or cheery music significantly improved participant’s mood in both the short and long term.
- Check Something Off Your Bucket List– One way to motivate yourself when you’re struggling is to do something for yourself. What have you been meaning to do that always seems to fall by the wayside? Read a particular book? Start a new project? Take up a new hobby? Learn a language? Start setting aside time to do something for yourself that you’ve been meaning to do, it is good for your mental health and will help reenergize you.
- Plan a vacation– Longing for sunnier days at the beach? Research shows that the simple act of planning a vacation causes a significant increase in overall happiness.
- Take Vitamins– One reason your moods may be inconsistent is you are not getting the vitamins and nutrients you need. Make sure you are taking a multi-vitamin, and this time of year perhaps a vitamin D supplement if you live in a cold climate. Consult with your doctor and determine if there is a particular supplement you may need to make sure your system is balanced and healthy. A vitamin deficiency may be the cause of inconsistent moods or fatigue.
- Help others– Ladling out soup at the local shelter or volunteering your time can improve mental health and life satisfaction.
- Get outside– Talking yourself into taking a walk when the temperatures plummet isn’t easy, but the benefits are big: Spending time outside (even when it’s chilly!) can improve focus, reduce symptoms of SAD, and lower stress levels.
- Make your environment brighter: When your body is craving more daylight, sitting next to an artificial light—also called a light box—for 30 minutes per day can be as effective as antidepressant medication. Opening blinds and curtains, trimming back tree branches, and sitting closer to windows can also help provide an extra dose of sunshine.
- Manage Your Screen Time– Cold weather often means we spend more time indoors, and that tempts us to spend more time watching television, looking at our computer screen or playing on our phone. Too much screen time diminishes mood, builds fatigue and creates too many distractions. Try making a point to put down devices and step away from screens if you are suffering.
- Eat smarter– Certain foods, like chocolate, can help to enhance your mood and relieve anxiety. Other foods, like candy and carbohydrates provide temporary feelings of euphoria, but could ultimately increase feelings of anxiety and depression.
- Try a dawn simulator- People with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression that usually begins in late fall or early winter and fades as the weather improves, may feel depressed, irritable, lethargic, and have trouble waking up in the morning—especially when it’s still dark out. Studies show that a dawn simulator ($50; walgreens.com), a device that causes the lights in your bedroom to gradually brighten over a set period of time, can serve as an antidepressant and make it easier to get out of bed.
- Focus on the Positive: It’s so easy to focus on the negative, but taking stock of the positive can greatly improve our perspective and mood. Take time each morning or night to write down a list of positives or things you are grateful for. If you’re comfortable, you can post your gratitude list on Facebook or tweet out one of your “positives” to inspire your friends and family.
- Talk About It: One of the best ways to feel better is to open up and talk about how you’re doing. If you’re feeling blue or having a hard time getting motivated, talk to a friend about it. Most likely, they have felt or are feeling similar and you can help each other along by trading stories and tips. If your sadness or lethargy is continuing over days or weeks, or making it hard for you to function, consider reaching out to a counselor or other professional who can help.
- Treat Yourself: In some locations, the weather keeps you homebound for a good part of the season. Just because you aren’t going out as much, doesn’t mean you can’t plan activities and have fun. Plan a movie night for yourself or a group of friends. Indulge in a hobby or start a project. Instead of feeling “trapped” inside, make a list of things you enjoy and find ways to engage in those activities.
- Seek Help– If you are suffering and nothing you try is working, you should seek professional help. No one needs to suffer alone and needlessly, so reach out to Capital EAP or a trusted friend or family member.
By Amanda Keller, LCSW-R, Capital EAP Clinical Director