Beat the Winter Doldrums: 4 Tips to shift your mindset and enjoy the short, cold days of winter.
Updated: Mar 29, 2019
For many of us the winter blah is REAL. I enjoy the changing seasons and get excited about the prospect of being outdoors to ski, play with the kids, or take the dog for a brisk walk in the snow. I like breaking out the warm sweaters, cooking soups and having a good excuse to settle into the sofa on a cold day with a good book. But the cold, darker days start to get on my nerves by late February, knowing it’s not really going to end anytime soon. I know I don’t have anything to complain about. Here in Colorado we are blessed with an average of 300 sunny days per year. And for those of us not living up in the mountains, it is not unusual to see a few warm days in the 50’s and maybe even 60 that bring us a wonderful dose of spring fever. I love to be outdoors and relish any opportunity to get out for a workout, instead of heading to the gym. However, when it’s sloppy, windy and frigid, winter can drag on and drain my energy and mood, messing with my nutrition, sleep, stress and activity levels too.
If you or your teens struggle with this each winter where you live, there are so many things that we can do to keep ourselves from falling down into that rabbit hole of winter ick. Of course, there’s a big difference between feeling the winter blues and experiencing a real depression. It’s important to notice that if you are experiencing feelings of prolonged sadness that interferes with your work, sleep, and regular activities, feel extreme fatigue or sense of worthlessness, and experience weight changes along with sadness, you may be suffering from a more serious depression. Depression can impact the quality of our lives for months or even years, and can have serious long-term consequences without treatment. Fortunately, depression is treatable, so please seek out support from a licensed therapist, or talk to your family physician, if you think this may be you.
The winter blues, also known as “Seasonal Affective Disorder”, is classified as a type of depression related to the change in seasons. For some individuals this can also be severe and may warrant outside support. However, if you experience mild symptoms that lead to lower motivation and energy levels and a slightly depressed mood there are many things you and your family members can do to combat this, and get through those darker days with a brighter outlook.
1) Get Some Light
Shorter, darker days are the primary culprit of the winter blues. Sunlight is our best source of vitamin D and is harder to get in the winter. Open the blinds, sit near a window if you can, and take a break or two outside when the light is the brightest. The brisk, fresh air and daylight together can boost your mood. If you live in a northern climate with lower daylight hours, then you might consider investing in an artificial light (lightbox) to simulate daylight. Research indicates this can be as effective as antidepressant medication. If you have to get up early in the mornings before the sun rises, a dawn simulating light that gradually brightens can be an effective tool for helping you to get out of bed.
2) Move your Body
Regular exercise is key to maintaining a positive outlook, especially to avoid the winter blues. If you are short on time or energy for a long workout, several short bursts of activity can be just as effective. Bundle up and get outside for several brisk walks each week, and when you are time crunched spend ten minutes running up and down the stairs. Do walking lunges and pushups, or park your car further away than your destination and do a little extra walking. Schedule fun outdoor activities on the weekends that you can do as a family to encourage everyone to keep moving. Try a new winter activity, or explore a new park or town. You don’t need fancy equipment or loads of time. Just get up and move throughout the day and notice the positive boost to your energy, motivation, and overall outlook.
3) Eat Smarter
What we choose to eat can have a huge impact on our mental wellness during these chilly months. Sugary snacks and drinks, alcohol, and refined carbohydrates can take a toll on our mental outlook and leave our bodies feeling depleted after the initial euphoria you may enjoy right after consuming them. Eat plenty of healthy fats (nuts, seeds, olive oil, fish), leafy greens, lean protein, dark chocolate (in moderation of course! Choose 70% cacao or higher), green tea, and increase food sources of vitamin D and potassium.
4) Turn on the Tunes
Studies show that cheerful, up-tempo music can give the mood a powerful boost. Put on your favorite playlist or album, and get up and move your body too!
Taking care of ourselves during the winter months can be more difficult, especially for those of us who struggle with the colder, shorter days. However, with good habits and a positive mindset, we can settle into winter and enjoy it. In our hectic world where we are bombarded with activities, events and information, having a reason to slow down our routine a little bit may not be a bad thing either.
Yvette Morton is a master certified wellness coach and former school psychologist. She specializes in how the mind body connection influences overall health and wellbeing, and guides clients to break free of thought patterns and behaviors that are barriers to long-term success. She works with adolescents, young adults, women and families.