How to Beat the Winter Blues
The holiday decorations are back in boxes in the basement. The excitement of a new year has faded. The days are shorter and gloomier. You’re officially in a funk. But you’re not the only one feeling a little off.
The winter blues typically occur during the fall and winter months, when it’s colder, we’re outside less, and there’s less sunshine. As a result, our serotonin levels become depleted, our production of melatonin — a hormone that prepares the body for sleep — increases, and our circadian rhythm — our natural sleep and wake cycle — is thrown off. For some, that means their mood and energy levels take a nosedive.
However, a winter slump is more common than you think, particularly for those who live in colder northern states. It’s estimated that 14 percent of the U.S. population suffers from winter blues, with six percent experiencing a more intense, lingering depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
The good news is, there are a handful of tried-and-true ways to help you get back to feeling like yourself again. Here’s how to beat the winter blues.
Signs You’re Struggling With Winter Blues
- Feeling down or anxious
- Mood swings
- Trouble concentrating
- Loss of motivation
How to Combat The Winter Blues
Prioritize Quality Sleep - Having fewer daylight hours in the colder months disrupts our circadian rhythm, which also messes with our sleep, further contributing to seasonal affective disorder. To ensure you’re getting the best sleep possible, create a wind-down routine that you can do 20 to 30 minutes before you’re ready to go to sleep. Turn off your phone, make sleepy time tea, move through a few relaxing yoga stretches or breathing exercises. This will communicate to your mind and body it’s time for bed. Of course, what you’re sleeping on matters, too — nothing will help you drift off faster than a quality mattress and pillow.
Reduce Your Alcohol Consumption - Alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, but it actually hinders quality sleep. Alcohol also affects your brain’s serotonin levels. Serotonin is a natural hormone that contributes to feelings of joy, happiness, and well-being. When you drink alcohol, you get an immediate boost in serotonin, making you feel happier at the moment. But in the long-term, it decreases serotonin levels, exacerbating feelings of depression.
Eat Healthy Foods (And Avoid Overeating) - As they say, healthy body, healthy mind. What we eat does affect our mood. So when you get a craving for something sweet, reach for fresh fruits like oranges, which are high in vitamin D. In fact, foods rich in vitamin D — like salmon, sardines, tuna, eggs, mushrooms, and oatmeal — are a solid option if you’re battling winter blues. Low vitamin D levels are associated with an increased risk of depression and we tend to get less of this essential nutrient during winter months spent cozying up inside. Overeating also contributes to feelings of sluggishness and fatigue. To avoid overeating, simply slow down to provide your body time to register the food you’ve already consumed and let you know when you’re truly full.
Get Outside - Along with eating foods that are high in vitamin D, getting outside can help level out your vitamin D levels, regulate your circadian rhythm, and give you an instant mood boost — all of which will help you keep those winter blues at bay. Your time outside doesn’t have to be an all-out excursion, either. Carve out a few minutes each day to take a walk around your neighborhood or at a nearby park — just make sure you bundle up if it’s chilly. Or, drink your morning coffee on your front porch. Small actions add up in a big way.
Exercise - There’s a reason you feel great after a workout. Exercising releases feel-good endorphins, which improve both energy and overall mood, help stave off depression, and reduce stress. Getting your heart rate up at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week — walking is an excellent form of cardio — does wonders for your overall well-being. Bonus points if you exercise outside!
Invest in a Light Therapy - Don’t knock it until you try it! Research shows that light therapy can ease feelings of depression and increase energy levels. To reap the full benefits of light therapy, it’s recommended that individuals sit in front of a lightbox that provides at least 10,000 lux of light for 20 to 30 minutes per day in the morning. However, not all light therapy options are created equal. So make sure you do your homework before investing. It’s also important to note that light box therapy is not recommended for people with eye diseases or those that are sensitive to light — and you should never look directly at the lightbox.
Spend Time With Friends - Loneliness and winter blues go hand-in-hand. So staying in touch with friends and loved ones throughout the year is essential. A game night or backyard hangout is always a good time. And if you can’t get together in person, schedule a phone date, watch the same movie and share your thoughts afterward. A support system and having people you can trust and talk to is important no matter the time of year, but especially through the gloomy winter months. So get creative and stay connected.
Meditate - Meditation is shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and can calm your mind and boost your mood, making it the perfect antidote for a case of winter blues. Apps like Calm and Headspace provide easy-to-follow guided meditations that focus on specific subjects and YouTube even has meditations targeting winter blues and SAD.
Talk to a Therapist - Sometimes, simply talking with someone is the best medicine, and it’s never been easier to find a therapist. Difficult emotions are hard to deal with. Speaking to a licensed mental health professional can help you work through feelings of anxiety, depression, or loneliness and allow you to discover coping mechanisms to live a happy, healthier life.
We can all help prevent suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling with severe depression or thoughts of suicide, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.