The winter months should be a time to sip on hot cocoa as the temperature drops, join friends and family for festive gatherings and awe at the sparkling splendor of a snow-covered landscape. Unfortunately for many of us, the reality is that this time of year is not quite so enjoyable. Winter can produce feelings of sadness, fatigue, irritability, boredom and weight gain. These feelings during the winter months are collectively known as the winter blues, and the condition affects as much as twenty percent of the American population.
One out of every five of your friends, family, coworkers and neighbors likely suffers from some degree of the winter blues, and maybe you even suffer from seasonal mood changes yourself. Unfortunately, many people attempt to brush off these feelings not realizing it can become a serious problem. The winter blues are considered to be a sub category of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a form of depression. You are more likely to be affected by winter weather changes if you have any of the following risk factors:
- Being female makes you more at risk, however males are not excluded
- People aged 18-50 are more at risk than younger or older age groups
- You live in a region with limited sunlight during the winter months. The further you are away from the equator, the more at risk you are.
- You spend a great deal of your time indoors with little exposure to what natural sunlight there is.
- You tend to have a deflated, or let down feeling, after the holidays
- You are predisposed to other types of depression
For those of us who feel susceptible to the winter blues, the worst of the symptoms seem to set in around January or February, which can be the most difficult months. The thought of making it through an entire winter with these feelings can be overwhelming. If your symptoms are severe, you should speak with a medical professional who can help to diagnose you and treat your situation in the best way possible. However, if your symptoms are mild and you are looking for some strategies to help you cope with feeling a little blah during the winter months, here are ten natural strategies that can improve your mood and bring some light and happiness into your wintery days.
- See the Light
For many people, seasonal mood changes are actually caused by biochemical changes brought on by the shortened daylight hours. You can help to brighten your mood by letting more light into your life. Here are a few ways to sneak in some extra rays.
- Open up your blinds, and whenever possible, sit by a window.
- Consider a dawn simulator for your bedroom. This device slowly brings up the level of light in your bedroom to recreate the natural light rhythm of sunrise and can make it easier for you to get out of bed.
- Spend a few minutes every day near an artificial sunlight lamp. These special lamps emit rays that help your body produce more vitamin D.
- Resist the urge to sit in darkness. While a dimly lit room may fit your mood, get up and turn the lights on.
- Change your light bulbs. If the light bulbs that you use emit light that is just too harsh, switch to a softer light, or even a happiness inducing color such as light pink. Full spectrum light bulbs are a little brighter, but also the best choice for lifting your spirits.
- Get Some Shut Eye
The winter blues can make you extra sleepy, and you already seem to be spending extra hours in bed, so why is it that you need to make sleep a priority? While you may be sleeping more, there is a good chance that you are not getting quality sleep. Plus, when your natural rhythm is already out of balance from the seasonal changes, it is even more important to stick to a regular bedtime and wake up routine.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Turn off all technology at least thirty minutes before bedtime.
- Write down the thoughts or worries that on your mind. Once you put them down on paper, you can give yourself permission to put them out of your mind until you wake up.
- Use soothing scents as part of your bedtime routine. Lavender, chamomile and rose are nice soothing scents that make you feel peaceful and a little drowsy. Use a scented foot cream, candles, eye mask or sprinkle of few drops of pure essential oils into a diffuser.
- Set the alarm clock for when you actually need to be awake, not before, and then place the alarm clock away from the bed so that you need to get up to turn it off.
- Don’t Neglect Your Routine
When you are feeling blue it can be easy to let your regular routine slide, but keeping your daily life as stable as possible can go a long way in getting your through a difficult winter. Now is even a good time to start one or two new daily routines that you can look forward to or that simplify your life in some way.
- Give yourself a few extra minutes in the morning for some enjoyable “me” time. Sip on a special tea, enjoy a late sunrise, meditate, etc.
- Set your clothes out the night before so that you have a visual reminder to get your day started.
- Find a planner you love and use it. Whether you prefer one that electronic or paper, using a planner helps to keep you on track and encourages you to find things to look forward to.
- Move Your Body
Winter blues make you tired and the change in weather might actually cause your body to ache and feel stiff. Add to this that the winter months are prime time for adding on a few pounds and you have all the ingredients for sliding into lethargic laziness. One of the best things that you can do to combat winter blues is to get regular physical exercise. Exercise releases endorphins which help brighten your mood almost immediately, and the effect can last for hours. It really doesn’t matter what your fitness level is. If all you can do is a few leg lifts from the chair, then you are doing better than the person who is doing nothing. Start slow, but set goals for yourself. If you already have a fitness routine, add in a few goals to challenge yourself.
- Enjoy Wintery Nature
How do you learn to enjoy something that you strongly dislike? You take the time to look at it from a different perspective and train yourself to see the beauty that was missing from your field of vision.
- Stand outside and breathe in the winter air. Even if you hate the cold or the grayness, close your eyes and experience the cool breath entering your body. Notice the smells and the sounds of nature in winter.
- Take a winter walk. The world looks different in the winter, and no matter how bleak it seems, there is beauty to be found if you look for it. Take a walk and make a promise to yourself to find at least three areas of natural beauty.
- Try nature photography or a nature art class to help change your visual perspective of the winter world.
- Find a New Hobby
This is the perfect time to take up that hobby that you have wanted to try. Taking up a new interest will spark your energy and give you something to look forward to and focus on other than the cold grayness outside the window.
- Connect with Old Friends
The winter months are a perfect time to get in touch with people that you miss. Feeling connected to other people is important for emotional health, and this is even truer when you are feeling blue. Take this opportunity to get in touch with people and fill in your calendar with long overdue coffee dates and dinners.
- Take Care of Your Skin
Winter weather can take a toll on your skin. Your complexion can easily become dry, blotchy and be more prone to breakouts. How you feel about the way you look can significantly affect your mood. Take extra good care of your skin during the winter months and pamper yourself with extra beauty treats.
- Schedule a spa day, and get the full package. A new haircut, facial, massage, pedicure, etc.
- Change your skin care products in the winter to ones that are designed to help with any skin care woes the drier, colder air brings.
- Avoid harsh ingredients that further irritate winter skin and choose products that are created with natural ingredients.
- Slather on an emollient cream all over your hands and feet before bed. Throw on a pair of cotton gloves or socks to lock in the moisture.
- If you have wanted to try a new makeup, now is the time. Brighten up your look and your spirit with a new lipstick or eye shadow palette.
- Give Your Pantry a Healthy Makeover
Kick winter in the behind by favoring healthy foods over those unhealthy comfort foods that you are probably craving. One of the reasons that New Year’s resolutions are so popular is that the beginning of the New Year and the period of time before the freshness of spring is perfect for setting forth fresh patterns of behavior. One of the best changes that you can make is a commitment to a healthier diet.
- Go through your refrigerator and pantry and donate or discard any foods that don’t fit in with your healthy eating commitment.
- Fad diets usually don’t work, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t take some suggestions from them. Is there a dietary lifestyle that appeals to you? Try incorporating a few aspects without committing yourself to a program, and see how the changes make you feel.
- Make the changes about a commitment to being healthier for life rather than losing weight.
- Set a series of three to five mini healthy goals, rather than one large one.
- Practice Daily Gratitude
During the most difficult of times, one of the healthiest things that you can do is to practice gratitude. People who are the happiest and can most easily navigate the difficult times are people who know how to be grateful for what they have. As hard as it may be to remember, there is always something to be thankful for, even if you are thankful for the bounty that someone else is experiencing. Making a point of expressing gratitude everyday can help to change your perspective to one that is more open to the positive aspects of life.
- Start a daily gratitude journal. Take five minutes and quickly write down three things that you are grateful for.
- Compliment others. Choose at least one person everyday to compliment.
- Say something nice to a stranger.
- Practice saying “thank you” rather than “I’m sorry”. Did someone move out of the way for you? Instead of saying that you are sorry for making them move, just say thank you. Do you have a special request for the server at restaurant? Don’t apologize, just say thank you. This will help change your mindset from one of being a nuisance, to one that you are worthy. The more gratitude you show, the more you will be able to recognize all the things that you have to be grateful for.
The winter months can be trying on your body and your spirit. The best way to make it through a case of the winter blues is by practicing self care and making yourself a priority. Unfortunately, you can’t make winter any shorter, but you can change the way that you experience it by making just a few natural, healthy changes.