Winter Blues it’s a common shared experience that when the weather gets colder, we tend to become a little sadder. There’s a scientific reason for this. The phenomenon is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). And it impacts 4 to 6 percent of the U.S. population every year. During the 2020-2021 winter season, we’re not only stuck inside because of the cold; the COVID-19 pandemic has been keeping us close to home for months. It’s important to take care of ourselves — mind and body — so we can greet the springtime with renewed energy and lifted spirits.
Here are 11 tricks to help beat the winter blues:
1. Talk to other people.
This one is especially tough this winter due to COVID-19 restrictions. How does one socialize while socially distancing? It’s still possible to connect face-to-face through the multitude of video conferencing platforms out there, like Zoom and Facetime. Apps that come pre-loaded with interactive games are also a great way to stay in touch with friends. And don’t forget about the good old-fashioned phone call. Better yet, a handwritten letter is a great way to show someone you were thinking of them.
2. Keep your routines.
The cold definitely makes us want to stay inside where it’s warm and cozy, especially if we’re working remotely or between jobs. But if you stick to a routine that involves leaving your house (even if it’s just going to the grocery store), you’ll feel like the weather isn’t impacting your daily life. For example, if you would normally walk your dog after work or on your lunch break, keep doing so! Just throw on some cold weather gear and bring a flashlight/headlamp if your neighborhood isn’t well-lit at night.
3. Stay active.
Fight the temptation to stay curled up with a blanket all day — exercise is an effective way to combat mild depression. If you don’t normally work out, consider easing into a routine by doing simple bodyweight exercises like sit-ups or push-ups. Three to four workouts a week can make a big difference in your mood.
4. Treat yourself.
There are plenty of ways to pamper yourself that don’t involve stepping out. Have a spa night in: Apply a hydrating, at-home facial while soaking in a warm bath, or mix yourself a tropical smoothie to sip while relaxing with a riveting “beach read.” And while a spa visit might be off the table, you can still enjoy a luxurious, stress-reducing massage at home during the cold winter months with a heated massage chair.
5. Brighten up your house, inside and out.
Since a key element in fighting off seasonal depression is exposure to light, try to keep your home as bright as possible during the day. Open up your curtains and trim back tree branches outside (if possible) to let the most sunlight through your windows. If bare windows tend to let drafts in, consider hanging sheer curtains that will still let light in. Decorate your home with string lights inside and out, and light candles to brighten up your evenings.
Light therapy boxes for SAD can help if your home isn’t as bright as you’d like during the winter. Sitting next to one for 30 minutes a day can reportedly be as effective as taking an antidepressant medication.
6. Get outside.
One of the best ways to help reduce symptoms of SAD is to soak up as much natural light as possible. Going outside during sunny days, even if it’s cold, can help improve your focus and lower stress levels by filling you up with valuable Vitamin D. Just don’t forget to wear sunscreen (yes, even in winter)!
7. Find a new hobby.
Focusing on learning a new hobby or skill can keep your mind occupied and off of the cold weather. Start a DIY home improvement project, or take an online class. It doesn’t have to be ambitious though — try completing and framing a puzzle to display in your home, or teach yourself to make the best scrambled eggs.
8. Make your home cozier.
Being physically cold can make us more depressed, so make your home as warm and inviting as possible. Drape fuzzy blankets on every couch and bed, invest in some soft area rugs and warm house slippers, sip hot beverages throughout the day and keep your home temperature between 68º-70º F. Host a virtual get-together with friends to enjoy hot cocoa and show off your cozy space.
9. Eat well.
A healthy diet can give you more energy and provide mental clarity, especially during the winter months. Whole foods — like vegetables, fruits, grains, lean meats — give us the nutrients we need to stay healthy and feel good. Comfort foods like candy and carbs can actually increase anxiety and depression. Try making a new, healthy dish from scratch to spice up your dinner table!
10. Listen to music.
Listening to upbeat music can improve your mood, both in the moment and for the rest of the day. Queue up your favorite jams for a midday dance break, or explore new playlists on a music streaming service like Spotify to discover your next favorite song.
11. Talk about it.
According to Healthline.com, talk therapy is defined as discussing “feelings and emotions triggered by daily stressors, a medical illness, relationship issues, grief and loss, or the impact of a specific trauma” with a therapist. Talking to a licensed mental health professional is more effective at treating SAD than using a light therapy box.
Why is this? According to Dr. Kelly Rohan, professor and director of clinical training in psychological science at the University of Vermont, talk therapy gives us the tools to weather the winter lows year after year. The key is noticing negative changes in your thought patterns and behaviors, and addressing them before they get worse.
Armed with these tips for beating the winter blues, you can start building your toolbox to access the next time the season gets you down. Keeping your mind, body, and spirit healthy is the key to weathering the winter months. Read more