We made it through what felt like the longest month of all time and now we are just barely trudging along through February, wondering if we will ever see the sun, green grass, or signs of life ever again. New England this past January was frigid in combination with short days and dark evenings creating a recipe for the winter blues. The winter blues are fairly common and can cause you to feel less energized and sadder than usual. It can also make you lose your focus and motivation affecting your relationships and lifestyle.
Thankfully, these emotional changes are temporary and can be managed with a few lifestyle modifications. There is a difference between “winter blues” and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If your winter blues seem to be affecting your life in negative ways and you are worried it may be more than just feeling a bit down, make sure to consult a doctor for a diagnosis and more information. In the meantime, this article is a helpful resource in differentiating between SAD and the winter blues.
The winter blues are affecting so many of us in combination with navigating year 3 of a pandemic. Now is the time to get on top of it and take steps to improve our mental health. Today I am sharing some ways to beat the winter blues and maybe even surprise yourself by embracing what winter has to offer.
12 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues
Colder temps, shorter days and dark evenings keep us indoors more in the winter and we become deprived of one the most vital vitamins our body needs to function properly– Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is said to affect about 50% of the population over recent years. Evidence has shown vitamin D helps to prevent chronic disease and improve immune function, which is especially important during a pandemic. Spending at least 120 minutes outdoors a week has been proven to improve both physical and mental health and well-being. Looking to combine the benefits of the outdoors and exercise? Even better! Exercise is proven to improve mental health and walking has also shown positive effects in creative thinking. It could be as simple as a walk down the road or maybe you are up for more of an adventure hiking, skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, nordic skiing or fat biking. Whatever it is you choose, simply taking that first step outside will already benefit you in so many ways!
Nourish your body.
A nourishing diet can help boost your mood and make you feel better both physically and mentally. Everything in moderation of course. Don’t beat yourself up over the bowl of ice cream you ate after dinner or the fast food you got at lunch. It’s all about balance, and nourishing your body with lots of water (the air is so dry in the winter!) healthy fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and proteins! Citrus fruits have tasted so good to me lately– they feel like a burst of energy and sunshine. To help aid with any other deficiencies you may be feeling consult your doctor or nutritionist about other supplements like vitamin D for an immune boost and CBD to help with anxiety. Jess swears by an Equilibria CBD gummy every morning and her daily multivitamins from Ritual.
Move your body.
Even if it’s too cold to go outside, move your body! Although I would argue that there are enough layers to make going outside everyday possible, even if it’s just for 10 minutes… but we all have a different tolerance to cold, some less than others… lol, Jess ?. You can move your body in so many ways– try yoga, pilates, dance, peloton classes, elliptical, indoor swimming or tennis. This will get the blood flowing in your body and releases endorphins that help to manage stress and anxiety. This is a great article about how exercise is proven to improve mental health here.
With a postpartum hormonal shift over the last few weeks my anxiety has amped up quite a bit. Great timing, right? This past week, I started journaling at night before bed. My therapist suggested a few simple and quick prompts to help reflect on my day and it has been so helpful to focus on the positive aspects and shift my perspective a bit. We can all get caught up in ourselves and these practices have been so helpful. Simply writing 3 things you are grateful for is such a nice way to shift your mindset from those winter blues to that of gratitude. She also suggested responding to the following prompts: One thing that went well today. One thing that didn’t go well. How could I have changed it? What goal can I set for tomorrow? I have also been rating my day at the beginning of this journaling practice and I find that by the end of it, I often change my rating because I realize my day was so much better than the one small event I found myself perseverating over in the beginning.
Call or meeting up with friends and family.
For me, nothing gets me out of my head better than the people I know and love. They also know me well enough to sense when I’m struggling and always seem to know what to say to help me through tough times. Being there for a friend or family member can be so helpful in showing us we’re not alone in our struggles. A simple phone call or meet up is always just what the doctor ordered.
Start a new hobby/creative project.
Okay, I get it, this might seem like a lot but if you can make some time, you may find this to be so beneficial. Spending time doing something you enjoy has been proven to improve mental health. In fact, doing something new can be even more beneficial in shifting your mood. Why not take up something new? You could try cooking, baking, knitting, painting, puzzling, pottery, creative writing, photography, a fitness class. If one of these strikes your fancy- check local listings for classes and opportunities to meet some people with similar interests while you’re at it.
Embrace the hygge.
The Danish term, hygge pronounced hyoo-guh is a noun or adjective used to describe the quality or act of coziness, contentment and wellbeing. Instead of getting caught up in the darkness of winter, the Danes embrace the sense of comfort and joy that retreating inside their homes brings them. Cuddle up under a soft blanket, listen to the crackling fire, light a candle and watch a show or read a fun book. Embrace the opportunity to get out of your head and take a journey through your mind. Let the hygge commence!
Plan a trip.
Planning a local day trip, long weekend away or even a week long getaway if you can swing it, will help to give you something to look forward to. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, but it can do wonders for your mental health to drive an hour away for a destination hike, brewery, shopping or ski day. Looking for a weekend getaway in New England? Check out some of our New England winter getaway recommendations here.
Prioritize your sleep.
Sleep is so important for mental health. Sleep deprivation will only add negatively to any blues you may be feeling. Try to stick to a consistent sleep routine, going to bed and waking around the same time each day. Everyone’s internal clocks are slightly different and your lifestyle may control some of this. Regardless of what time you need to wake in the morning, alter your bedtime accordingly allowing enough time to get that deep sleep you deserve. Try to limit electronics an hour before bed in order to help your bodies natural melatonin rise without disruption from blue lights. Create a calm sleep environment and try quiet, peaceful activities before bed like reading, taking a bath, gentle stretching/yoga, meditation and journaling to prepare you for a good nights sleep.
Take a break from the news/social media.
We tend to watch more TV and do more scrolling during the winter months due to the cold and lack of sunlight. Oftentimes, we flip on the TV without thinking and are suddenly sucked into the news, which tends to focus on every bad thing happening in the world. If you are already struggling with the winter blues, this is only going to bring you deeper into that dark hole. Take a break if you need it and instead watch something a bit lighter. Check out our recommendations for 20 Comedy Shows to Watch Right Now.
I deleted Instagram off my phone at the beginning of the new year and it has helped so much with my mood. I was finding myself mindlessly scrolling and clicking the app without even consciously realizing what I was doing. My anxiety level would increase significantly after using the app. Instead I check it periodically on my computer for a few minutes a day.
Light therapy is another way to get that burst of vitamin D we are all craving during these long winter months. The lack of sunlight can create a deficiency and it is amazing what science can do to help combat this. Light boxes have shown effectiveness in treating SAD through the mood lifting chemical change in the brain caused by the light in light boxes that mimics outdoor light. These two articles from the Mayo Clinic outline the data behind light therapy, its benefits and precautionary measures: SAD treatment: Choosing a light therapy box and Light therapy. Of course, please consult a medical professional about light therapy first to see if it would be a good fit for you.
Seek professional help.
People often wait until they are in an emergency situation before seeking help. Prioritize your mental health and get help if you feel like your winter blues are getting the best of you. SAD is a serious disorder that you shouldn’t have to battle with on your own. The sooner you get help the sooner you can make a plan to get back to your best self. Don’t feel shame in this, instead feel proud and brave for taking the steps necessary to take care of yourself.
Life is too short to be miserable, so do what you can to embrace or at least try to make the best of the cold, dark winter months. Move your body, create healthy eating habits, get outside, get a good nights sleep and know flowers will be blooming before we know it. Also be easy on yourself, winter can be tough, and we are going on year three of living in a pandemic. These are hard times. Don’t feel any guilt for doing what’s right for you.
Have you done anything to beat the winter blues? We’d love to hear in the comments what has helped.
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