Winter is in full force. As the days get shorter and the nights get colder, even the best of us can get a little down. The “winter blues”, also known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), is characterised by mild depression, lack of motivation, and low energy that affects 1 in every 300 Australians during this cold season. Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to both prevent the blues from coming on and get yourself back to normal if they’re already here.
1. Get some exercise
It can be hard to find the motivation to get out of bed when it’s chilly outside and so warm and comfy under the covers, but a quick walk or jog is great for relieving stress. Not only can this wake you up and energise you for the day, but physical exercise is also a proven depression buster as it triggers your body to secrete mood enhancing hormones (for example, serotonin). Not only do these hormones enhance mood, but they can also increase your motivation and ability to focus (bonus!).
If you can’t exercise, go outside within 2 hours of waking up. Even if it’s cold, taking a walk around the block can invigorate the body, soothe the mind and set you up for a busy day.
Hot Tip: According to the science, our metabolism should increase during winter (keeping warm uses up a lot of energy). This suggests that the ‘easiest’ time to lose weight through exercising is during the colder months. Keep up the great work!
2. Eat a healthy diet
It may be cold outside, but good nutrition should never hibernate! What and when you eat has a great effect on your mood and energy. Avoid refined and processed foods (like white breads, cakes, and sugar). These foods are not only lacking the nutrients your body craves, but they zap your energy levels and can affect your mood—triggering depression, lack of concentration, and mood swings. Try to incorporate more complex carbohydrates (whole wheat breads, brown rice, veggies, and fruit) and get your daily 8 cups of water. These healthy foods provide your body (and mind) with nutrients, and stabilise your blood sugar and your energy levels. If you eat healthy, you will reap the benefits.
3. Get some sun
Most people know that sunlight provides us with Vitamin D. But did you know that it also improves your mood? Winter days are shorter and darker than other months, and because of the cold weather, a lot of people spend less and less time outdoors. Lack of sunlight can cause many people to become depressed—without knowing why! Similar to exercise, sunlight exposure releases neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood. Studies have shown that sunlight increases our serotonin level which in turn makes us feel happier. Try to spend a little more time outdoors. Open the blinds every day and allow as much light into your home/work environment as possible. The best time to catch the vitamin D rays is during 10am – 2pm, so why not have your lunch in the sun (of course avoid getting sun burnt). If you are not able to get into the sun on a regular basis, consider supplementation during the colder months. Additional bonus: Research by Harvard Medical School revealed that a Vitamin D deficiency can increase the risk of infections such as the ‘flu.
4. Act on your resolutions
Remember that resolution you made 6 months ago, how is it going? Now is the time to refresh, re-evaluate and address how you have been tracking. If that resolution needs a dust off or a boost up, why not act on it now. A recent study showed a strong link between healthy behaviours and depression. Women who exhibited healthy behaviours, such as, giving up smoking, reducing alcohol or increasing daily vegetable intake, had less sad and depressed days than those who didn’t. Healthy mid-year resolution anyone?
5. Embrace the season
Instead of avoiding the cold and the snow, look for the best that winter has to offer! Winter fashion, theatre, family fun nights, warm fires, ice skating, warm soup on a chilly day, hiking adventures, film festivals, movie marathons etc. Seeing winter in a positive light, with all the activities you can only do when its cold out, will keep your spirits high and your energy strong.
6. Avoid binge drinking
Alcohol is a depressant, rather than improving your mood it only makes it worse. Avoiding alcohol when you’re already depressed is a good idea. Moderate drinking is usually fine for most people, but binge drinking (defined as having 5 or more drinks in one setting) is never a healthy choice. The morning after, you feel sick, depressed and even more tired, which will affect many aspects of your life. A hang over is never a fun thing.
Drinking caffeine can be a nice way to warm you up, but excessive amounts can leave you feeling down by the end of the day and may disrupt your sleeping patterns. Try substituting caffeinated drinks with non-caffeinated black/herbal teas and/or decaffeinated coffee.
7. Don’t be a hermit – Stay social
Though it’s tempting to hibernate and avoid going out completely in the winter, don’t do it! Lounging around on your couch watching a movie marathon may feel good in the moment, but in the long run being around your friends and family will brighten your mood way more. Being socially isolated can make you more vulnerable to mental health problems and can make you just plain lonely. Some researchers believe that one in five people feel sad solely due to social isolation. If you’re feeling blue, the last thing you might feel like doing is having to put on your social mask. But doctors say, the more you withdraw, the worse you will feel. So take this time to try something you’ve always wanted to do, like volunteering, taking a cooking class or reconnecting with an old friend.
8. Cherish your sleep
Sleep is essential to cognitive performance, focus, productivity and mood. Winter can see many peoples sleeping pattern decrease or increase as per their tendencies. With a little time management, and some self-discipline, you can meet your shut-eye needs. Aim for 7-8 hours each night, and try to keep your bedtime and waking time consistent. That way, your sleeping patterns can normalize and you’ll have more energy. Try not to oversleep—those 12-hour snoozes on the weekend can actually make you MORE tired. If you’ve under slept, nap! A short (10-30 minute) afternoon nap may be all you need to re-energize midday. Try to keep sleeping patterns consistent.
If your symptoms are persistent, visit your primary care physician: Even though some people might dismiss SAD as merely a temporary “winter blues,” there’s no shame in seeing a therapist or doctor if your symptoms aren’t relenting. Your health professional will walk you through your options, which might include a regimen of light therapy, psychotherapy, or anti-depression medication.