Dark months are upon us. With the shortened days and colder weather, we are heading into what can be one of the toughest seasons of the year for many people. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real thing that can dampen your mood and energy, but there are ways you can overcome the Winter Blues.
As I’m writing this, the sun is nearly down already in the late afternoon hours in the Pacific Northwest and I’m trying to keep my fingers warm by moving them as quickly as I can across the keyboard. This is my first winter back in the US for over four years… oh, and technically, it’s still fall.
With shorter days and moodier weather, I generally find myself feeling the winter blues and it can be quite heavy. The lack of energy generally results in a lack of enthusiasm for anything, which brings me down.
However, I have a number of tricks for overcoming the Winter Blues and I’m excited to share those with you today. These make a world of difference for me!
What Causes the Winter Blues?
While dealing with you in-laws may bring you down in the holidays, there are also biological reasons why the winter can feel so challenging for many of us.
Shorter days brings a lot less sunlight, something we may take for granted. Getting sunlight exposure does a lot for our energy and moods, which is something we miss out on in the winter. It can also throw off your circadian rhythm and sleep cycle.
You also tend to move less in the winter. With less outdoor activities and more opportunities to curl up under a fuzzy blanket, we can become more lethargic from the lack of movement. It seems counter intuitive, but the more we are moving our bodies, the more energy we tend to have.
Besides biology, winter months can also leave us feeling lonely, especially during a global pandemic. This is all normal, which is a reminder that dealing with winter blues or seasonal affective disorder is not something to be ashamed of.
What to Watch Out For
One of the problems I often experience with any type of depression is the “slow creep” of it. Rarely does the winter blues dramatically present itself in a fashion of “HEY! Your SAD is here!”
Nope, it’s usually a gradual shift of feeling less energy and more overall “mehness,” which I know isn’t a word, but that’s how I best describe it.
Some of the things to look out for may be:
- Mood changes, including the feeling of no emotions.
- Sleep changes – getting way more or much less sleep than normal.
- Lack of interest – not motivated, desire to crawl into a cave and watch TV.
There can be plenty of other small indicators, like change of appetite, but these are the major ones I see in myself and my clients.
9 Ways to Overcome Winter Blues
These are some helpful things you can try at home as a way to combat the Winter Blues or SAD that you may be experiencing. However, it’s by no means the only ways. Give yourself permission to explore and try new things.
Get more light
One of the major causes of SAD is the lack of light. In most parts of the world, the sun is out for a small fraction of the time, compared to the active summer months. One way to combat feeling down is with more light.
Try these ideas for more light:
- Add more light to your space, such as additional lamps.
- Upgrade to lighting options purposefully designed for winter months.
- When the sun is out, open the curtains or blinds to allow more natural light into your space.
- Get outside for a walk when possible to take in the natural light.
I struggle with forcing myself to go outside when it’s cold, but I notice that after I do, my mood is usually much lighter.
Check your vitamins
While it may be helpful to check out your entire diet, I find that when you’re already feeling down, beating yourself up about food isn’t all that helpful. What I suggest doing is adding some vitamin support to your winter diet.
- Vitamin D – Vitamin D is important for energy and mood, which we generally absorb from the sun.
- Omega 3’s – This is also a good mood booster and can be found in foods like flax seeds, walnuts, and salmon (or you can grab a supplement).
- B12 – As someone who is mostly vegan, when I forget to take my B12 supplements, low energy and poor mood can creep back in on me.
For other supplements that are helpful for mental health, check out this article.
Ugh. Isn’t working out at home during the winter months the absolute worst? Or maybe it’s just me that feels that annoyed by it?
Part of our big mood shift in the winter is caused by stagnation and lack of movement. While that’s not always a bad thing, it can keep your energy pretty low. Making time for some light exercise a few times a week can help to keep you energized and may even help you get better sleep.
Yin yoga can be a gentle way to find movement when you feel low on energy.
Learn something new
While moving the body is awesome, you can also keep your energy up by working out your brain with something new.
What new hobbies could you pick up this winter to help your brain stay active? You can work on a new language, grab a ukelele, or take some free online classes that spark your interest. Give yourself a challenge!
With 2020 being the interesting year that is was, socializing as a way to treat the winter blues can be an even greater challenge. Feeling this sense of loneliness can already be higher in the holiday months, so come up with some ideas on how to stay connected virtually.
When I’m down, it can be hard for me to reach out and make plans, so I make sure to schedule weekly or bi-weekly calls with the people I know will be helpful to connect with. Think – high vibe friends.
Check out this list for creative ideas on how to have fun while hanging out virtually.
Do something you love
Make a list of all the activities you can enjoy doing this winter. You can make a couple lists, if you love them as much as I do.
Perhaps consider, what would you love to do if the weather is nice? Stroll in the park, look at Christmas lights, go sledding, etc.
You can also get creative about the things you enjoy doing when stuck at home. Do you like to try new recipes? Work on craft projects? Finally remodel your bathroom? Make a list and then do it.
Give yourself purpose
One of the reasons depression can creep in, besides the shitty weather, is from the lack of hope or purpose. Is there something you can put your energy into that gives you a purpose to get out of bed each day?
When you can’t think of your own purpose, just make one up. Seriously! I have my clients do this all the time. One of my clients decided that her purpose would be to make at least five people smile each day from kind comments she’d leave on random people’s instagram posts – love that!
Everything on this list sounds great… until you’re too deep into the Winter Blues and it all feels unreasonably difficult.
The best thing to do is prepare for your brain to want to talk you out of things. Plan for it by making your “feel good” tasks as easy as possible. I do this by scheduling activities ahead of time on my calendar, such as calls with friends, morning yoga, etc.
You can also plan for winter by making sure you have things you’ll need on hand – supplies for baking, extra lamps, tools for the new hobby you’re learning, and anything else you might need.
Be kind to yourself
At the end of the day, it’s rather normal to feel a bit less productive in the winter time. It can be normal to crave heavier food, want to spend more time bundled on the couch, and feel less enthusiasm for activity.
Don’t beat yourself up for it. We are cyclical beings and we live through seasons. Winter can be a great time for slowing down, reflecting on things, and spending more time in silence or solitude. If it feels good, lean into it.
Give yourself praise for how you’re getting through the winter months, even if you think you could be doing better. Being kind to yourself is vital. Shower yourself in love!
It’s okay to need help
Hear me – you are NOT weak for needing help. It is not shameful or lame. Sometimes, it’s necessary!
If you’re feeling deeply depressed, a complete lack of hope, or are experiencing thoughts of suicide, please seek professional help. I also lean on the support of therapists all the time and it’s brave to do so.
The following is a list of national depression hotlines that are staffed 24/7. Your local area may have additional resources.
- National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255
- Hopeline: 1-877-235-4525
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): 1-800-662-4357
Lean on each other and check in on the people in your life, even if you think they’re managing everything well. With the year we’re having, it’s more important than ever that we are supporting each other as much as we can.
Let me know, what are you trying first this winter?
I’ll be dancing my way through it!