Cold, Dark Days of Winter
With shorter days and colder weather, the “winter blues” descend upon many people. We’re staying indoors and being less social or active than usual. We may even experience a post-holiday letdown with a lack of energy and motivation.
“Winter blues” are marked by depressed, gloomy, irritable feelings. You may be sleepy, less interested in social activities, lack motivation and even crave carbohydrates.
Here are some coping strategies:
- Stay mindful about how you fuel your body. Nutrition plays an important role in emotional health. When we’re tired, it’s easy to reach for pre-packaged, high sugar, high carb foods with low nutritional value that leave us feeling sluggish. Research indicates that this type of diet is more likely to cause depression. By contrast, a nutritious diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein can dramatically improve emotional health. Start by making one or two small, healthy food choices a day. Consider adding a daily vitamin or probiotic to fill any nutritional gaps. Gut health and emotional health are connected.
- Move more. Exercise releases important endorphins and chemicals in the brain to improve mood. Just 60 minutes of moderate movement per week will improve mood. You can even break it down into 10-minute increments throughout the week. Park farther away. Dance while you wash dishes. Pick activities that are easy to incorporate into your lifestyle and you will notice an increase in energy, better sleep and an improved mood.
- Practice better sleep habits. Restful sleep is essential to mood, outlook, energy level and overall health. Limit caffeine, avoid nicotine and skip naps. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Remove distractions (like your phone) from your room. Increase your exposure to sunlight—open curtains or spend time outside. On average, it takes about 20-30 minutes to go to sleep. If not asleep in that amount of time, get up, go to a different room and do something relaxing for 20-30 minutes. Then, try again.
- Embrace change. Embrace the weather. Embrace this time of your life. Instead of distressing over shorter days and colder nights, take some time each day to snuggle into it. Don’t constantly look for the next task or replay regrets or worries from your day—it only leaves you unsettled. Take time each day to be mindfully present in the moment. Wrap up in your favorite blanket and read or watch a movie. Turn on some music, light a candle, reflect on reasons for gratitude. Breathe.
For some, “winter blues” can develop into something more serious. If you notice that these symptoms—depressed mood, low energy, sleep or appetite change, loss of interest and motivation—seem to persist or begin to interfere with your life, it’s time to talk to your health care provider or counselor. If you or someone you know experiences suicidal thoughts, talk to a professional immediately.
One in 10 people in the United States experience diagnosable depression each year. Those numbers indicate that if not you, then someone you know may be suffering from depression. Don’t suffer in silence. It is time to talk about it. Depression is not a choice. It is not a lack of faith nor anyone’s fault. It is a medical illness— like diabetes or heart disease. Most importantly, it is treatable.