5 Ways to Shake Off the Winter Blues
It’s dark when we get up. It’s dark by dinnertime. Sunny skies are scarce and it’s cold outside. Why is it that during the winter our moods can so easily match those gray, overcast skies? If you’re like a lot of people, you have probably wrestled with a bout of the cold-weather inactivity. But there are some easy ways to shake it off, feel better and beat those winter blues.
What are the winter blues?
When we’re talking about the winter blues, it’s the sad feelings that might crop up for a few hours, or a day here and there. You might not feel like yourself. You might feel more tired than usual or in a bit of a bad mood because you want it to be warm and nice outside; and it’s not. Some symptoms of the winter blues, according to the National Institutes of Health.
- Feeling more down or sad than normal
- Not having your typical energy level
- Not being as interested in your hobbies
- Can be linked to post-holiday stress, or missing lost loved ones
- Typically lasts less than a few weeks
- Feelings are come-and-go
How are the winter blues different from SAD?
The winter blues are a much different thing than having long-lasting feelings of depression that are typically linked to Seasonal Affective Disorder. For some people, SAD can mean living for weeks, or even all winter, with persistent and heavy feelings that are emotionally draining. If you think you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder, talk to your healthcare provider. They can discuss your symptoms and help you differentiate between having a serious depressive disorder and feeling a little blue. And if you are diagnosed with SAD, treatment options are available through your physician.
How to shake off the winter blues
Sure, some of us could jet off to a warm, sunny Caribbean vacation. But those only last so long. Instead, here are some easy ways to make peace with winter mentally while taking small actions that can really make you feel better. The Cleveland Clinic suggests making these actions regular habits during the winter.
Exercise: Getting your heart rate up is not just good for your body, it’s good for your brain. Research has shown that exercise puts you in a better mood. This does not mean you have to take up running through the snow. Regular gym workouts will do the trick. So will walking on your at-home treadmill, jumping rope or lifting weights. The key is to keep moving to boost your mood.
Eat your way happier: No, this is not an open invitation to empty an entire bag of potato chips or increase your regular orders from a greasy fast-food drive-thru. Eating past the winter blues means selecting nourishing, low-processed foods that do something special when you eat them: spark some extra feel-good chemicals for your brain. You are looking for healthy carbs that are high in fiber. Some examples from The Cleveland Clinic:
- Cooked oatmeal with sliced bananas
- Sliced apples served with a couple tablespoons of peanut butter
- Fresh fruits
- Potatoes cooked with their skin on
- Whole grain breads, cereals and pasta
- Cooked beans and lentils
Light Therapy: Real sunlight is best. But if sunshine amounts are skimpy in the winter, consider getting a light box for your home or office that you can sit in front of for a few minutes a day, or whenever you’re feeling a little blue. The bright light delivered by these boxes can help improve your mood. Read more about how to select a light box here.
Get outside: Yes, we know it’s cold out there. But that’s OK. Layer up, find your hat and mittens and get some fresh air. Being outdoors makes you feel better, even if it’s just for short stints each day. So go walk your dog, stroll with your kids, or just walk yourself to a better mood.
Social connections: Making time for friends is so important for our mental health and keeping our brain active. Studies have shown our friendships and the number of social connections we have is one of the indicators of a long life. Getting together in warm weather is easier, but make an effort in the winter to catch up with friends. You’ll feel better for it.
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