People dealing with seasonal affective disorder (SAD); the medical version of the winter blues aren’t the only ones that struggle with the short, gray days, grim weather, and the overall gloom of the winter season.
Reduced exposure to sunlight can significantly affect your circadian rhythm (the body’s biological clock regulating hormone production and even brain wave activity). For older people and for individuals with conditions like Raynaud’s (a condition that causes extreme sensitivity to the cold), the winter blues can be much worse.
Few of us are big fans of the cold weather season, but for those of you that spend much of the winter in the dumps, here are some ways you can improve your mood to maintain your mental health until spring returns.
What are the Signs that You Have the Winter Blues?
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are nine symptoms associated with SAD that we should look out for. If you’re experiencing any one of these – then you might have a serious case of the winter blues and should take steps to restore a positive outlook and improve your mood.
The symptoms of SAD are:
- Changes in either appetite (particularly a craving for foods high in
carbohydrates) or weight
- Persistent sluggishness or agitation
- Having a hard time concentrating
- Your limbs feel heavy or tired
- Unusual thoughts of suicide
- Remaining depressed most of the day for two weeks or longer
- A sensation of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Insomnia or other sleep problems
- Lack of interest in activities that you enjoyed before
Simply exposing yourself to sunlight will stimulate the brain to release of serotonin – one of the most important hormones to improve your mood. The dark days of winter can cause your serotonin levels to dive; by getting outside as much as possible when the sun is out, you can raise your serotonin levels to fight the blues. Even half an hour per day can make a huge difference. Try eating lunch or getting your exercise outdoors to get as much daylight as possible to help reset your body’s circadian rhythm and balance your mood.
Change Your Diet
Winter frequently leaves many of us craving starchy foods and sweets and, while these items can be an enjoyable part of our diet, to maintain health, we need to strike a balance.
Rather than run to the snack machine when you need a quick pick-me-up; choose foods like walnuts, boiled eggs, and cheese; they can all help the body to secrete more serotonin, which will lift your mood.
Our diet can also play a significant role in sleep quality. Poor sleep can exacerbate the winter blues – so it’s best to avoid eating a heavy meal within an hour or two before bedtime. If you’re the type who often wakes up in the night feeling peckish; then try eating a small, protein-rich snack before bed.
Wind Down Before Bed
Worry about work or family life and being constantly connected to email and social media can have a negative impact your sleep quality – ruining your mood in the morning. Although it’s tempting to take your mobile device or laptop to bed with you, make sure you give the brain an opportunity to switch off as you prepare for bed for the best possible night’s sleep.
A good idea is to stay away from your social media accounts and email for at least an hour and a half before turning in. Try reading a book (catching up on the news may not be very relaxing), listening to soothing music or just have a warm bath. By establishing a regular wind-down routine, you can reduce any feelings of anxiety and relax your mind; ensuring that you get the best possible night’s sleep to be re-energized for the next day.
Try Napping to Beat Fatigue and Improve Your Mood
Lethargy during the day is a typical symptom of SAD. Starting a napping routine over the winter is a fantastic way to combat this. Ideally, your naps should last between 10 and 20 minutes and be scheduled for when you feel most sleepy during the day or merely find yourself losing your concentration. Many of us feel a natural decline in energy levels around mid-afternoon – but whenever you start to feel tired or unfocused is the best time.
Find or Create Something You Can Look Forward to
The depths of winter are a perfect time to plan something you can look forward to.
Studies have shown that people who travel can get a much greater boost in their mood from anticipating the trip than from the journey itself. Even if you must wait until spring or summer arrives to take your trip, you can still get a mood boost that lasts through the winter just from the anticipation.
But, do you have to travel to create this mood-elevating anticipation?
No! Use the cold months to plan any experience you can look forward to. Whether it’s working on the garden, a first picnic or beach trip, or taking a hike on your favorite path. It’s the anticipation that has the effect, not what you’re anticipating.
Make the Most of Indoor Time
Inclement weather and frigid temperatures will inevitably keep you stuck indoors – sometimes for days at a time. Make the most of it!
Are there any home improvements or repairs that you’ve meant to get to? Get the materials you’ll need together in advance so when the winter weather keeps you stuck inside; you can avoid going stir crazy. Instead of retreating to the couch, you’ll have a productive and engaging activity to occupy the day.
If you share your home with friends or family – why not keep a collection of board games and share some quality time interacting with each other rather than an electronic device.
Learn Something New
Use the time you’re stuck indoors to new a new skill!
Have you always intended to learn a musical instrument? Maybe you’ve always wished to learn how to write software applications? Take advantage of the slower-paced winter months to pick up a new skill you can show off come spring and summer. The feeling of accomplishment doing so can offer, will go far to improve your mood and your self-image.