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  • Writer's pictureSarah Santiago

Avoiding The Winter Blues

Winter is due to hit any day now. While many people look forward to winter, it's quite common for many people to experience the "winter blues" at some point. Today I'm sharing tips to help you through the winter; no matter how dark, cold, or dreary.

It's important to explain that the winter blues are different from Seasonal Affective Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and other mood disorders in that it's not as severe as an actual depressive disorder. The winter blues are essentially a feeling of being sick and tired of winter and can make you feel like winter is dragging on and you just want it to be over with. If at any point you notice that you're experiencing a persistent depressed mood, little interest or pleasure in doing activities you normally enjoy, withdrawing from others, struggling to fall asleep or are sleeping too much, changes in your eating habits and appetite, etc. please consult your physician or therapist to discuss your symptoms. If you're able to live your life, you're just sick of winter, you likely have the winter blues. When in doubt, consult with a professional. Certainly if you ever experience thoughts of suicide, thoughts about harming others, please contact help such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 988.

Here are some tips to keep in your back pocket that may help you this winter:

  • Create a winter bucket list: consider indoor and outdoor activities that you'd love to do this winter. Focus on tasks you'd like to complete (re-organizing your closet, painting a room, etc.) as well as fun activities that you would enjoy doing. Making this list as big as possible will ensure that you have plenty of options to choose from if you find yourself in the middle of winter feeling like there's "nothing to do".

  • Utilize a "happy light" and sunrise alarm clock: some research suggests that exposure to bright lights can help energize us as well as have positive effects on our mood. Happy lamps can also be called SAD (seasonal affective disorder) lamps. Typically, SAD lamps don't emit UV light so they are much safer than tanning beds, however it's a good idea to consult with your doctor before using them to ensure that you're using them safe and effectively. SAD lamps can be purchased for relatively cheap online. Another great option that is a personal favorite of mine is a sunrise alarm clock. A sunrise alarm clock gradually brightens prior to the time that you wish to wake up to mimic the rising of the sun. Many people find that these can be quite helpful when they wake up before the sun rises in the winter. Some sunrise alarm clocks even have sunset settings on them to help your body fall asleep at night.

  • Utilize the power of scents: Scents can trigger memories and impact our mood. There are two ways that I suggest using scents in the winter time: either embracing your favorite winter scents (and flavors) with items like candles, perfumes, soaps, lotions, oils, foods, etc. or by intentionally using scents from a different season to evoke memories and positive associations from a non winter season. Make a key lime pie, use a beachy scented lotion, light a floral candle. Scent can be a powerful tool to lift your mood.

  • Use a countdown calendar to help track things you're looking forward to: having things to look forward to can help give you a boost of excitement. Maybe it's a holiday, a vacation, visiting with someone special, or an upcoming events- whatever spark excitement be sure to find a way to keep yourself looking forward to it.

  • Try some of your favorite summer activities in the winter: Sometimes our favorite places can be a brand new experience in the winter time. It's always important to keep safety in mind. Maybe try revisiting your favorite hiking spot in the winter time, or take a stroll through a favorite park. If you enjoy riding your bike in the summer try fat tire biking in the winter. Make a winter bonfire and enjoy s'mores. There are many ways to still enjoy some of your favorite summer things throughout the winter. Get creative!

  • Practice gratitude: practicing gratitude has many positive effects on the brain. In the winter we can be intentional about focusing on all of the things we are grateful for, big and small. Things like noticing how good a warm shower feels on a cold winter day and taking a moment to be grateful for access to warm water, or how comforting the sound of a crackling fireplace can sound on a chilly night. We can also practice gratitude towards ourselves and take time each day to be grateful for all that our bodies do for us on the daily, and all that we've done for ourselves to take care of ourselves and get through our day.

  • Use a guided meditation: meditation is a great way to utilize our imagination and help relax our mind and body. You can use a meditation to embrace winter, or to help you escape winter to a mental cozy summer retreat.

  • Practice mindfulness: be intentional about mindfully taking in your surroundings and being present in the current moment. This can be a wonderful way to take in the beauty of winter, notice how your body feels, notice what your body needs, and help you cultivate gratitude as mentioned above. The next time you're outside in the winter, even if it's walking to your car, stop and intentionally utilize all 5 senses to mindfully notice your surroundings, you might be surprised at what you notice.

  • Socialize: it's easy to feel cooped up in the winter, especially for people working from home. Most communities have a lot going on in the winter. Look into what events are being held in your community that sound interesting to you. Get involved with a local organization or volunteer to help get you out of the house. Meet a friend for coffee. Bring your neighbors cookies. The cold weather can make you want to stay inside, but prioritizing connecting with others is an important aspect of self-care.

  • Consider your vitamin D levels: some research links vitamin D levels with mood. It's easier to get natural vitamin D during the summer months when we're exposed to more sunlight. It's a good idea to consult with your doctor about your vitamin D levels and talk to them about if they recommend you get more vitamin D. You may also consider working with a Registered Dietician to explore ways to consume more vitamin D in your winter diet.

  • Keep hydrated: some studies also suggest that dehydration can worsen depression and anxiety. Our bodies need adequate hydration to function. Winter can be very drying and it's important to ensure that you're keeping your body hydrated to work and feel it's best.

  • Embrace physical movement: exercise creates endorphins, the chemicals in our brains that boost our mood. There is so much scientific evidence that regular physical exercise can positively impact our moods and energy levels. Exercise should never be a punishment, and does not have to be something you dread. Try to identify a form of movement that you enjoy and work to be more consistent with it.

  • Develop a bed time and morning routine: research shows that keeping a regular bed time and wake up time helps your body feel rested. Help communicate to your body that it's time for sleep with an established bedtime routine. Consider eliminating screen time (because screen emit bright lights that wake our bodies up), bright lights, and engage in relaxing activities such as a warm bath/shower, a cup of decaffeinated tea, soothing music, reading a book, etc. You can utilize things in the morning like bright lights, energetic music, an energizing meal to help your body wake up.

  • Consider holiday boundaries: the holidays can certainly be a time of joy and connection, however they can also feel stressful and overwhelming. Consider your ideal holiday experience and what things may be causing you stress to help you prepare boundaries that you could enforce to really take care of yourself this holiday season. Boundaries are firm but respectful. Holiday boundaries can sound like "I'm really looking forward to our family gathering however I am unable to host it at my house this year" or "I'm uncomfortable discussing this topic at dinner; I'd love to hear about your most recent vacation".

  • Revisit your favorite winter activity, or try something new: children are amazing at playfully embracing winter. Reflect back on your favorite winter activities as a child and try them out this winter. Maybe you go sledding, build a snowman, or enjoy a big mug of non cocoa while baking cookies. Try a winter activity that you've never done before. Trying something new, or doing something you haven't done since you were a kid is a wonderful way to spark joy.

  • Get outside when it's sunny: remember that the sun is a great way to get vitamin d, and sunlight can have a positive effect on our mood. Remember to wear your SPF and proper gear, but go out and enjoy the sun on those rare sunny winter days, even for just a few moments.

  • Reflect on your why: why do you live where you live? What do you love about the place that you live? Reflecting on this can help you tap into what you enjoy about where you live, cultivate gratitude, and remind you that despite the cold winter, you are in this location for a reason.

  • Be intentional about being warm and cozy by practicing the Scandinavian concept of Hygge: Embrace all the cozy indulgences of winter: fluffy blankets, warm sweaters, fireplaces, wool socks, warm drinks, candles, etc. Consider ways you can make your environment more cozy to help you embrace the winter.

  • Celebrate and/or create winter traditions: upholding and recreating favorite winter traditions is an excellent way to have things to look forward to and create special memories. You can also start new traditions at any time so consider doing things that you think would be fun to do year after year.

  • Remind yourself that you can do this because you've done it before: if you've ever experienced a winter before then you have evidence that you can get through another winter. Winter will end because it always does. When you're feeling sick and tired of winter, remember that you have what it takes to ride the rest of this winter out because you've done it before.

I'd love to hear your tips for surviving the winter blues; let me know in the comments!

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