As I look out my windows this week, I see drizzle and mountains lost in gray clouds. Last week’s sun and warmth is gone, and winter has moved in.
I love the colors of winter – deep violets, grays, and blues. With the shift in light, color, and temperatures, comes a subtle shift in mood as well. Despite the beauty, too many gray days in a row can leave me feeling a little blue.
There are two ways to approach the winter blues – one is resistance. But of course resistance leads us no where when we cannot control the weather. The second approach is acceptance. Embracing the weather means looking for the beauty, finding a sense of gratitude, and knowing the best ways to care for ourselves when we feel the winter blues coming on.
I struggle with mild Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and this year I am entering the season with a plan to stay as healthy, energetic, and happy as I can.
Dr. Norman Rosenthal describes SAD:
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that occurs regularly, every autumn and winter, when the days get short and dark, though it may occur at other times as well. The reason it occurs mostly during the winter months is that one of the main causes of the condition is a lack of sunlight. Other situations in which people don’t get enough sunlight include cloudy or rainy periods at other times of year, living in dark places and working for long hours in dark offices. Whenever there is insufficient sunlight, those people who are vulnerable to Seasonal Affective Disorder may develop symptoms.
As a health coach working with people by phone and Skype from places all over the United States, I discovered just how common seasonal affective disorder is. During our conversations, people often shared with me their low energy, motivation, and difficulty with depression during the darker months of the winter. Symptoms of SAD range from mild to severe.
Self-awareness is crucial, as is having a plan. Here are the strategies I’m using to keep myself healthy this season:
Get More Rest
Although circumstances of life often prevent us from going to bed earlier and sleeping later, try to make adjustments where you can. Winter is traditionally a time for slowing down, reflection, and more restful activities. Keep this in mind as you plan your activities, especially now during the holiday season. Make rest a priority.
Low energy and depression often leads to cravings for sweets and carbohydrates, which offer a serotonin boost. But too many carbohydrates and sugar can lead to a crash and feeling even more sluggish, not to mention winter weight gains. Balance your meals with healthy sources of protein and fat.
- Nuts and nut butters such as peanut, almond, and cashew provide both protein and healthy fats, and will give you a longer-lasting energy source. But avoid overdoing them, especially mindlessly munching – too many calories can add on weight.
- Cottage cheese, cheese cubes, and hard-boiled eggs make nice high-protein snacks for better energy. Combine with fruits and vegetables for a balanced snack with added nutrients.
- Find balance – include some of your favorite comfort foods in moderation
I use additional lights, especially in the morning, to brighten my winter home. White twinkly lights in my room, a simple table lamp added to the kitchen island, and even candles brighten my spaces and lift my mood. There are “light boxes” sold specifically for treating SAD, and I have spoken to a few people who use them with success. The Mayo Clinic has a brief article on choosing the best light boxes for treating SAD.
It can be a challenge to be physically active during the cold winter months, especially when the days are short. I find I enjoy being outside in all kinds of weather, but it takes a whole lot of motivation to get myself dressed properly and out the door. Even short walks in fresh air can have a big impact on our mood.
Try some stretches or yoga. American Council on Exercise (ACE) has an exercise library with illustrated instructions, and videos to help you choose exercises based on equipment (even if you have none), body part, and fitness level. Visit the library here.
Spend Time in Nature
There is something therapeutic about spending time in nature. When I lived in the city, a simple walk along a tree-lined street had an effect on me. Find a nature spot, bundle up, cover up, and learn to enjoy the changing beauty with the seasons.
Ups and downs in energy and enthusiasm are natural, and I try to remind myself it’s OK to have a bad day. But when bad days become the norm, I know I need to make adjustments. And I remind myself, the sun will return, and the days will get longer.
Do you experience changes with the seasons? Have you felt the winter blues? How do you take care of yourself during these times?