By Jennifer Landis
While some people view fall like happy puppies awaiting a walk, the season’s change brings harbingers of dread for those with the winter blues. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) causes countless people to suffer each year. This type of depression affects people during the darker seasons like fall and winter, and may require, according to the Mayo Clinic, “light therapy (phototherapy), medications and psychotherapy.”
You may or may not have a diagnosed condition, but if you feel down in the winter, it makes sense to begin nurturing your psyche now. Here are eight tips to help you do so:
1. Add Joy to Your Calendar
What do you have to look forward to this week? If you can’t think of anything, add a little sunshine to your calendar.
Think about what makes you happy. Is it spending time in nature? Or working on a creative project? When you make your weekly agenda, pencil in some time to go hiking, sit quietly in the forest, on a beach or lake, or work on a project you enjoy. When you have something to look forward to each week, it helps maintain an optimistic outlook.
2. Grow an Herb Garden
Growing a windowsill herb garden has multiple mental health benefits. You enjoy seasonings that are free from pesticides and preservatives. You also get to nurture growing things, which gives you a sense of satisfaction.
Additionally, some varieties can help improve your mood. St. John’s wort is one noted variety, but some claim that stress-busting powerhouses like chamomile and lavender also calm the blues. If anything, a hot cup of herb tea at the end of a long day tastes divine.
3. Eat More Whole Grains
When the manufacturer’s process grains into white flour, they strip away the bran, which is where all the vital nutrients concentrate. As a result, you might suffer nutritional deficiencies, even if you consume sufficient calories.
The solution is to eat more whole grains. According to Piedmont Healthcare, “Hgh-fiber whole grains like whole-wheat pasta and bread, oatmeal and sweet potatoes help your body release serotonin.” Serotonin, a brain chemical, naturally increases a person’s mood. If you have gluten sensitivity, ancient grains such as quinoa and amaranth offer alternatives that many tolerate well.
4. Whip Up Something a Little Fishy
Chinese researchers performed a study where they found that Europeans who consumed the most fish lowered their risk of depression by 17%. What’s the magic behind the effect? While scientists continue their investigations, fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These substances promote neurological health. Seafood also boosts your immune system and cardiovascular function by keeping your veins and arteries pliable.
5. Start an Exercise Program
The last thing you want to do when you feel depressed is hit the gym. However, getting in the habit now can help ease your winter blues. Exercise is one of the best ways to improve your overall mood. Once you establish a routine, you’ll feel guilty about skipping Zumba or HIIT. It’s an example of positive stress—once you get moving, your body starts releasing endorphins, improving your mood and sense of well-being.
If you don’t want to go to the gym or take a class, then see how you can exercise at home. You can work out to a YouTube video, ride a stationary bike, or walk on a treadmill if you have the equipment.
6. Plan a Weekly Social Date
Does the winter make you feel like curling up and hibernating without talking to a soul? People feeling down tend to isolate themselves. They may lack the energy to socialize and feel guilty about darkening everyone’s mood with their Eeyore-like demeanor.
Plan at least one weekly social date with a trusted friend. You can set up a Zoom happy hour free—it’s the socially distant way to replace pub meetups. If spending more time on the computer holds little appeal, schedule a phone call with a relative or friend.
7. Light Up Your Life
Researchers believe that the winter blues result from changes in light exposure. Many of us spend a large percentage of life indoors. When you drive to work and commute home in the dark, you may feel like you haven’t seen the sun in weeks. One potential solution is to invest in a light therapy lamp now. If you wait until the winter blues strike, you might not have the energy to order one. Start using it as preventative maintenance. If dark morning skies make getting out of bed challenging, consider investing in one that brightens your bedroom like a sunrise. If you find it useful, you can invest in a second one for the office. Fortunately, you don’t need a prescription to buy these devices, and you can find many models for less than $50.
8. Get Your Zzzs
If you have seasonal depression, you might not want to do much besides sleep. However, do you know how bears survive the cold? Their metabolism changes, and so will yours if you spend too much time in bed. Unfortunately, the condition can lead to metabolic syndrome and potentially Type 2 diabetes in humans. Make your bedroom conducive to sleep by eliminating distractions that keep you awake. Then, preserve the space for slumber and sex only. Try not to watch TV while lying down because the tendency to nap can prove overwhelming.
The darker seasons prove challenging for many with winter blues. The eight tips above can help you nurture your mental health and survive winter with a smile.
Jennifer Landis is a mom, wife, writer, and blogger at Mindfulness Mama. She enjoys drinking tea, dark chocolate, and rainy day snuggles with her daughter. She enjoys sunny days, too, but finds they are less conducive for snuggles. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferELandis.