Keeping the "Winter Blues" Away
As the winter months approach, the days get colder, the sun sets earlier, and many of us in New England become increasingly sad and anxious. Though this seasonal downturn in mood is incredibly common and may seem inevitable, it can be improved or avoided in several ways.
1. Stay active – The mood boosting effects of exercise are well documented, and several studies have found that winter depression improves in response to it. In one such study of 135 men and women, both weight training and cardiovascular exercise were found to successfully decrease negative mood, with a greater benefit experienced as workout duration and level of exertion increased. Women in particular reported improvements in feelings of exhaustion.
2. Vitamin D – Studies have shown an association between vitamin D deficiency and depression. Because we get the vast majority of our D3 from the sun, it makes sense that vitamin D deficiency is almost universal at northern latitudes during the winter months; there are fewer daylight hours and we spend more time indoors. In randomized controlled trials, supplementing with D3 was found to increase positive affect, and therefore may be a great option for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) sufferers. D3 is also essential for a healthy immune system, as it triggers the mobilization of T cells against viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens. There’s nothing worse than being sad and sick at the same time, so make sure your vitamin D levels are in a healthy range.
3. Don’t fight the season – Some of the symptoms of SAD include increased appetite, lethargy, and “hypersomnia.” While it may not feel great to want to sleep all day, it is also not a surprising symptom given what the rest of nature is doing. Don’t feel bad or worry if you want to sleep more as the days get shorter. Sometimes, it is good to operate in a lower gear. Use nature’s period of hibernation to rest and replenish. Cook hearty, nourishing meals, sip a warm drink, read a book, and cuddle up with a blanket, significant other, or furry friend. Winter is the perfect time to slow down, enjoy the little things, and pamper yourself.
4. Practice gratitude – Start and end your day by thinking of 3 different things that you are grateful for. It may be cold and dark outside, but there are always reasons to be thankful. Look for the silver lining in every situation, and don’t forget about things you might usually take for granted. For example, you probably have a roof over your head, food in your fridge, and people who love you. Going through this exercise every morning will force you to focus on the abundance in your life, and will help set a positive tone to your day.
5. Change your environment – Most people cannot afford to buy a sunlamp to use during the winter months, but changing your space in simpler ways can still have a profound effect on your mood. Playing upbeat music, burning non-toxic candles with bright, uplifting scents, and filling your home with warm lighting can all contribute to the cultivation of a cheery atmosphere.
6. Smile – Even though you might not feel like smiling when you are sad or anxious, think about this: smiling increases your body’s release of serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins, which can all help to boost your mood. Smiling doesn’t have to just be a symptom of a positive mood; it could be the cause of it. Besides, wallowing in misery will only make you feel worse.
7. Think of ways to help others – There are many reasons why coming up with ways to help others can boost your mood. For starters, it puts you in a solution-seeking frame of mind. If you are actively generating solutions, you are less likely to fixate on problems. Thinking about others can also take the spotlight off of yourself and any hardships you might be experiencing. Finally, if you have the mission of brightening one person’s day, every day, you will not lose your sense of purpose, which is important for your mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.
8. Choose helper herbs — Work with your doctor or herbalist to find supportive herbs with mood boosting abilities that are right for you. For example, St. John’s Wort, a bright yellow summer flower, can be a great choice for the winter blues. For anxiety, herbs like lavender, passionflower, and kava kava can all be wonderful allies. However, it is important to talk to your health care provider about your health conditions as well as what other medications or supplements you are taking, as certain herbs may be contraindicated.