Although the cold, short days of winter are inevitable, there are proven ways to keep your winter blues at bay
Ah, winter – the season of holidays, twinkling lights, and warm, indulgent beverages. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Or is it?
The cold, damp, short days of winter have been known to lead to feelings of being physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted, otherwise known as the winter blues. Although the winter doldrums, or winter blues, have not been medically diagnosed, there is research to suggest that this seasonal state of health is fairly common and can include symptoms of:
- Emotional exhaustion
According to the ancient system of holistic medicine, Ayurveda, the world around us lies dormant in the winter months in an effort to conserve energy, and so do we. This can make us feel bogged down, overly tired, pessimistic, and more prone to illnesses like the common cold or flu.
While the winter blues are fairly common, a small percentage of people can experience what’s called seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is marked by intense feelings of hopelessness, fatigue, sleeplessness, changes in appetite, and trouble concentrating.
While the winter blues and its associated symptoms are less severe than those of SAD, it is still a real and significant issue. Therefore, it is important that you recognize the signs and take steps to actively overcome your blues before they get too severe.
Here are the top seven tips for beating the winter blues:
- Nourish your body
During the cold winter months, we tend to reach for rich “comfort foods,” but as you can imagine, eating a diet that may be more processed or higher in sugars while simultaneously skipping your usual healthy fare can leave you feeling devoid of energy, and even induce feelings of anxiety and depression. To avoid this food-related slump, be sure to maintain a healthy balance with your food choices. For example, if you’re going to a party in the evening, or if you know you’ll be indulging in your favorite comfort foods for dinner, try to stick to vegetables, fruits, leafy greens and lean proteins during the day. You’ll also want to incorporate foods with a high source of vitamin D into your diet. Vitamin D has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and improve your immune system – which is critical during cold and flu season, and essential for beating the winter blues. Some vitamin D-rich foods include salmon or any oily fish, egg yolks, certain mushrooms, and foods fortified with vitamin D (often milk, soy, and cereals).
- Get outside
It can be easy to want to stay inside and hibernate during the colder months, but to get enough vitamin D in the winter, you need to take advantage of every opportunity to go outside when the sun is shining. Not only will the sun provide you with some much-needed vitamin D, but being in the sunny outdoors is also a great mood enhancer. While it can be hard to muster the motivation to take yourself for a walk when the temperatures drop, spending time outside in the fresh air, even when it’s cold and gray, can lower stress levels and improve focus.
Exercise is a critical component of a healthy and balanced life, but it is even more important during the cold winter months. Studies show that briskly walking for 60 minutes three times a week, or 35 minutes a day five times a week, can improve symptoms of depression. Working out under bright lights is thought to be even better for the winter blues, as it has been shown to improve general mental health, vitality, symptoms of depression, and overall social functioning.
- Cut down on alcohol and sugary beverages
It can be nice to have a glass of wine with dinner or a cocktail after a long day, but during the winter, it’s easy to overdo it – especially during parties when it’s more difficult to keep track of what you’re drinking. Consuming too much alcohol can contribute to an overall feeling of lethargy and depression, especially since too much booze prevents you from getting a good night’s sleep. To help lessen the effects of too much alcohol, pick two to three nights a week to avoid drinking alcohol altogether. Or, if you don’t drink alcohol, pick two to three days a week to avoid drinking beverages with added sugar. Both routes will help lessen the symptoms of the winter blues.
- Get high-quality sleep
This may sound like a no brainer, but lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep is a huge contributor to the seasonal blues. It can add to higher levels of irritability, unnecessary stress, and a host of other health problems. To help get a better night’s sleep, you’ll need to allow between 7-9 hours of uninterrupted time, avoid blue lights before bed, and sleep in a cool, dark bedroom. To help you wake up in the morning, it’s best to let as much light in as possible, but since it’s generally still dark outside during winter mornings, studies show that simulating dawn with a dawn simulator can serve as an antidepressant and help you get out of bed.
- Listen to music
Listening to music may not be your first inclination while waiting out the cold winter months, but upbeat or happy music can be a significant mood-booster, both in the short and long term.
- Plan something to look forward to
It can sometimes seem as if the winter is going to last forever, but to keep you going, try to keep your calendar full of things to look forward to. This can mean a vacation, a spa day, or even just an evening out with friends. The simple act of planning and anticipating something fun can result in an incremental boost in overall happiness.
It’s important to note that symptoms of the winter blues can be gradual at first and slowly progress over time. To help avoid seasonal depression and keep your blues controlled, consider your first symptoms to be red flags that need to be addressed quickly. If you get started early, you can beat the winter doldrums all together; however, if you avoid them, you may end up hitting a wall.
Just remember, if your blues become more than you can handle, or if you feel like you may have seasonal affective disorder, reach out to someone for help.