The time from the end of the holiday season on New Year’s Day to the beginning of Spring in mid-March are typically some of the darkest, coldest and most inactive weeks of the year. So- add to that a Pandemic which is already 10 months old and isn’t over yet, and you have the perfect storm for what I call The Dog Days of Winter!!
As I write this blog- the temperature outside is a Balmy 13 degrees, and the sun seems to make its appearance less and less- if at all! So if you feel more lethargic and tired this time of year, or experience less energy, or feel more sluggish or agitated than usual – you’re not alone! So many people feel that way in the winter months that experts have actually coined a term for it- called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD for short. While specific causes for SAD remain unknown, some factors may include changes to our biological clock (circadian rhythms) due to reduced sunlight in fall and winter. Another factor may be a drop in serotonin levels, a brain chemical that affects mood, as well as a drop in melatonin levels, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
So now that we understand a little better why we feel the way we do this time of year- let’s talk about some simple things we can do to beat these Winter Blues away!!
1. Lighten up.
Your body and your brain are craving more daylight, which makes your body release the feel-good hormone serotonin. Walk outside during the day, even when it’s cold, to get some sun exposure. Sitting closer to windows during the day can also help you get an extra dose of sunshine. Doctors usually recommend that people with more severe symptoms of SAD use a light box (a special light that simulates daylight) for 30 minutes per day. Using a light box may boost your mood even if you haven’t been diagnosed with SAD. Everybody, however, can get out during the daytime, even for just a few minutes. You may feel your worst in the morning, but make an effort to open up the curtains and soak in the morning rays. Remember: hibernation is for bears, not you!
2. Eat to improve your mood.
Certain foods such as chocolate have been shown to improve moods and help relieve anxiety. Candy and carbohydrates, like cookies or white bread, on the other hand, feel good when you’re eating them, but make you feel worse later when your blood sugar crashes. Little comforts that don’t lay on the carbs, like a cup of tea or small piece of dark chocolate, can help you relax without sabotaging yourself later. It’s also important to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, which can leave you feeling more optimistic in the long run. Make a pot of vegetable soup or chili to get the cozy feel of a cup of hot chocolate without the sugar crash.
3. Get moving.
More and more research suggests that exercise is a great way to help deal with (and maybe even prevent) depression. Exercise as simple as walking for 30 (or even 10!) minutes can have a significant impact on your mood. Bundle up and go for a walk, do 20 minutes of exercise at home or simply dance around your living room! Staying active helps stop winter weight gain (… and the Covid 20 too!)
4. Listen to an upbeat playlist.
Research from the University of Missouri suggests that listening to cheerful music can improve your mood, even after the song ends. So put away the ballads for the winter, and listen to something with a good beat that you can dance to! Or stop in the office where we always have diverse and fun music playing… especially on Country Saturdays!
5. Help others.
Volunteering your time to help someone else can improve mental health and how satisfied you feel with your life. Help out a local organization. Clean out your closet and donate the clothes you’ve grown out of. Put in some extra effort around the house to help out your family. Do something kind for a friend. The possibilities are endless!
6. Stay social.
This may be even more critical during this Pandemic. We have all been more isolated in the past ten months and now you may feel even more inclined to spend more time alone. However, spending time with friends and loved ones can have a serious impact on your mood. So try to spend time with family and friends while social distancing and practicing safe Covid protocols. And don’t forget to use Zoom and other video chat options when a face to face isn’t possible. Any contact is better than no contact!
This point has been a recurrent theme for many of my blogs in the past year… and for good reason. Being mindful, doing deep breathing exercises, and meditating can all have a significant impact on how you feel. Try taking several deep, slow breaths, filling your belly as you inhale and letting it deflate as you exhale. Concentrate on nothing but your breathing. This can be extraordinarily helpful in reducing stress and tension.
8. Be kind to yourself.
We’ve given you a lot of tips on how to deal with feeling down. But when you’re depressed, it can be really hard to find the motivation to actually do these things. If you skip a workout or stay in all day, don’t get mad at yourself. Instead, think about what you’d say to a good friend going through something similar. These small changes in your focus can lighten your mood and help you get through the winter blues.
Finally, remember that the best ways to beat the blues is to keep your body tuned up and your spine aligned! So get yourself adjusted on a regular basis to keep your nervous system at peak efficiency. And remember that we are always here to talk to if you need a caring set of ears to listen!!