If you are feeling blue in the winter, you're not alone! Lots of people feel a bit low as the days get darker and colder. But while many experience the winter blues, there are some who experience seasonal affective Disorder(SAD). SAD can be quite debilitating and can cause feelings of sadness, irritability, sluggishness, and eating and sleep disturbances.
Although it's likely to be caused by multiple factors, seasonal affective disorder and winter blues have been closely linked to lessened exposure to light since the days get shorter and darker throughout fall and winter. This could lead to a cascade of physiological changes, including a disruption of the circadian rythyms, lower vitamin D feels, dysregulation of serotonin, and overproduction of melatonin. Couple this with post-holiday blues and a dislike of cold temperature, and you many find yourself begging for warmer, longer, sunnier days.
1) Notice Your Patterns
As the fall sets in, I've made a habit to ask my clients about their mood patterns over the past several fall and winter seasons. Upon reflection, many people can start to recognize that their moods worsen during this time frames and this knowledge is powerful. It enables us to work proactively to structure their winters and plan ahead of time to combat their seasonal blues.
2) Rule out medical causes
Haven't gotten around to that annual physical yet? Now might be a good time to visit your doctor. Various medical issues, including viral illnesses and endoncrinologial disorders such as thyroid disfunction, can disguise themselves as a low mood in the winter. A lack of certain vitamins can also contribute, as seen below.
3) Check your Vitamin D levels
Low Vitamin D levels particular have been associated with depressive symptoms. Further, vitamin D levels notoriously drop during the wintry months. For this reason, many physicians will test your Vitamin D levels and may suggest vitamin D supplementation to help boost your mood during the winter.
4) Rethink the winter
Reframing your thoughts about the wintertime can be quite powerful. Many people in the darkest, most northern cities view wintertime differently. It's often seen as a time that is cozy, a time for celebration and togetherness with loved ones. I look at winter as a period of rest for the spring, summer, and fall.
5) Soak up the natural light
Exposure to natural light can help with low mood. Bundle up and try to get out of the house, even on cooler days, to get ample exposure to natural light. While in your house, open your shades to allow natural sunlight in. Perching yourself by those windows will give you a little boost from the natural light.
6) Create your own sunlight
Lightboxes are widely recommended by physicians in the treatment of winter depression. Designed to mimic the sunlight, medical-grade lightboxes also come with UV filters that block out harmful UV rays that are damaging to the skin. A short but consistent 20-30 minute exposure to the light created by these light boxes every morning can be high effect with minimal side effects for most people. Since light boxes are not consistently regulated, it's important to seek out a physicians guidance when choosing one.
7) Connect with others
As the winter wears on, many of us can feel like withdrawing from our social lives. While enjoying cozy time at home may protect us from braving the cold, it can also result in avoidant and isolating behaviors that can leave us feeling lonely and sad. Reaching out to our friends and make sure our social calendar remains active and fulfilling is a great way to combat those winter blues and help us feeling connected and supported.
8) Get moving
Exercise is known to be protective for our mood, can lower levels of stress, and, for many of us, holds a strong association with mental and physical well-being. While exercising outsides gives you the dual benefit of natural-light exposure and physical activity, sometimes the weather can make that impossible. On those days, hitting the gym, and choosing equipment closer to the window is ideal. I love a warm yoga class on a cold day too!
9) Stay Structured
Fight the urge to snooze in bed for that extra hour and instead opt to stick to your normal routine. Having regular sleep-wake times and sticking with your schedule can help structure your day, keeping you feel productive, and combat the sluggishness that often occurs with the winter blues. It can be tempting to sleep for longer hours during those darker days, research has shown that excessive sleep is neither medically or mentally healthy.
10) Self Compassion and Self-Care
You may not be feeling on your A game right now, have compassion for where you are. What are some things you might need right now? A long hot bath? Catching up with a good book? Is there anything you can let go of right now to create space for yourself? Take time for you and what you need right now.
11) Stay away from certain foods
Certain dietary choices are linked to an increased risk of seasonal affective disorder. Maintaining good health through eating balanced and nutritious meals is essential in protecting yourself against SAD. Specifically, SAD, is associated in increased carbohydrate cravings, so being mindful of carb intake and limiting refined sugar could help curb irritably along with eating anti-inflammatory foods can support good mental health at any time of the year. Drink alcohol moderately as it is a known depressant and can affect your mood, behaviors, and sleep cycles. Staying hydrated can be helpful too.
12) Seek professional help
It might be one of the reasons above, but there could also be other explanations for low mood this time of year. The holidays can stir up difficult family dynamics or feelings of sadness that we are left to contend with after the busyness of the holiday season ends. It can be incredibly powerful and effective to seek a therapist's assistance in helping to explore and work through these emotions.
While the above-mentioned tips are highly effective for most people, if you find yourself still struggling with your mood, it may be time to be evaluated by a physician or schedule an appointment with a licensed a licensed therapist. While the above information is helpful to know, it should not be taken for medical advice.
Spring is coming shortly!! :)
Licensed counselor, outdoor enthusiast, yoga lover and passionate about wellness.