Winter is here once again, which means the winter blues are back. Below are five easy ways to keep your mind and body healthy throughout this challenging season. Colorado Primary Health Care cares about our patients and wants you at your best! Keep reading below to find out what steps you can take to beat the winter blues.
The days are short and temperatures are dropping: ’Tis the season for winter blues. Even with holiday cheer and festive gatherings, it’s not uncommon for our moods to take a hit as the seasons change—and that could mean anything from sluggishness and exhaustion to irritability and anxiety. In fact, Psychology Today reports that 10 million Americans might experience this form of winter depression, known as seasonal affective disorder.
Relentless schedules, professional demands, and social commitments don’t always help, either. Jill Strickman, founder and CEO of a New York City-based casting agency that helps big-name brands cast everyday people in a variety of commercials and other media, feels her mood drop during dark and dreary winters. “Not getting enough sunlight has a huge effect on me,” she says.
Ways to Beat The Winter Blues
Fortunately, there are easy ways to develop mood-boosting habits and make lifestyle changes that could help with treating seasonal depression and ultimately lead to a more positive mindset. After seeking the advice of Dr. Eva Selhub, a physician, author, and speaker specializing in resiliency, Strickman picked up some key strategies on how to weather the winter. Both offer helpful tips—from mood-boosting foods to daily lifestyle changes—for how to beat seasonal depression.
1. Nourish Your Body With Good-Mood Foods
Cookies, cakes, and cocktails are tempting holiday fare, but they can have a significant impact on your emotional and physical well-being. “There’s a whole gut-brain connection,” says Selhub. “What you’re physically putting into your body affects your mood.”
To stay upbeat, Strickman says she sticks to vegetables, healthy grains, and protein-rich foods. In fact, Selhub recommends incorporating “functional foods,” such as fish, avocado, leafy greens, nuts, apple cider vinegar, and herbs, into your everyday diet. She explains that these good-mood foods contain enzymes, vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and complex carbohydrates that can help enhance the body’s functions and reduce the risk of disease.
2. Make Exercise a Top Priority
“Sweating is crucial for my well-being,” says Strickman, who exercises three to five times a week. While Strickman prefers Pilates, yoga and weight-bearing exercises, Selhub says a gym membership isn’t always necessary to reap the rewards of physical exercise. Rather, she says, “a half an hour a day of moderate exercise,” such as taking a brisk walk, can significantly “improve serotonin and dopamine levels”—feel-good brain chemicals that can boost your mood and relieve pain and stress.
3. Optimize Your Sleep
Despite working in a city that never sleeps, Strickman ensures she gets a solid seven to eight hours of shut-eye every night—a habit that she says keeps her upbeat and energized. To develop healthy sleep patterns, Selhub recommends putting your devices to bed early. “A lot of people engage in screen time before bed, which affects your melatonin levels and keeps your brain alert,” says Selhub. “You really want the evening to be downtime.”
Another tip: Optimize your bedroom environment by purchasing comfy sheets, eliminating external noise and making it a destination for rest and relaxation—not household budgeting and other potentially stress-inducing tasks.
4. Make Meaningful Connections
“Spending time with people who I connect with is really important to me,” says Strickman. Social connection is more than just a pleasurable reprieve from winter doldrums: Selhub says human contact is also a tried-and-true mood-booster. “One of the things that alleviates depression is human contact and socialization, which tends to fall during wintertime.”
But don’t mistake a flurry of text messages for meaningful interaction. A survey from the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health found that people who report using “seven to 11 social media platforms had more than three times the risk of depression and anxiety than their peers who use no more than two platforms.”
“Make time to see people in person versus digitally,” advises Selhub. “It’s about making time to be with someone with all your senses, and in the present, that allows for meaningful connections.”
5. Be Mindful of Your Surroundings
Findings from a Harvard University study on regular meditation and health benefits suggest that mindful meditation can help lower blood pressure, and even affect genes that regulate inflammation and circadian rhythms. “For me, meditating really slows me down and connects me with my body,” says Strickman.
The good news? You don’t need to enroll in a costly course or attend a retreat abroad to start a meditation practice. “It’s a period of quietude where you’re quieting the mind and relaxing the body with some type of central focus,” says Selhub, adding that options range from yoga to Qigong to mindful walks and more. Even guided meditation, sleep and mindfulness apps such as Calm and Headspace can aid your efforts to offset winter blues, says Selhub.
Stress, carbs and fluctuating moods might always be part and parcel of the holiday season. But while you may not have any control over the wind chill factor, there are steps you can take to fight seasonal depression and stay upbeat with natural mood-boosting habits—even when the temperature drops.