As you’ve noticed, it’s cold, grey, and bleak outside. As a result, you may be less active than usual. You also might not be getting enough Vitamin D. And, you would rather curl up in bed, overindulge in junk food, and stay there until the spring.
It’s normal for most of us to feel down during the colder months of the year. In fact, some of us may experience feelings that are similar to depression -- this is known as Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Whatever you’re feeling, or how severe it is, please don’t shrug-it-off as that could cause more harm to your overall health and wellbeing. Instead, use the following techniques to overcome the “winter blues.”
1. Build a compassion snowball.
Have you heard of the snowball effect? If not, the concept is simple. It’s “a process that begins with a small internal shift and builds upon itself, becoming larger and larger, like a snowball rolling down a big snowy hill,” explains Pamela S. Willsey LICSW, BCD, PCC for Psychology Today. Sometimes, this can be a negative, like when your bad mood impacts others. Other times, it can be a positive, like when someone buys your morning coffee, which inspires you to also “pay if forward.”
Willsey recommends building a positive compassion snowball to help manage the winter blues. To achieve this, she recommends practicing self-compassion and helping others.
“However you choose to show compassion, know that any amount of giving doesn’t just help others,” she adds. “Research indicates that the act of compassion benefits your overall sense of well-being. And just maybe, winter might feel a little bit easier to manage.”
2. Take a cue from Scandinavians.
Instead of viewing winter as something to endure, Scandinavians embrace the season by practicing something called hygge.
Pronounced hoo-gah, “this is a Danish lifestyle approach that embraces sensory experience, intentional community, and all things ‘cozy,” explains Joan Eileen Atkinson, Founder of SpiritHouse Holistic Interiors. “With their long, oppressively dark winters, hygge has developed into somewhat of a national coping mechanism for the Danes, used to fight off isolation, depression, and SAD (seasonal affective disorder).”
To practice a hygge lifestyle, get cozy by wearing warm and comfortable clothing. You can also wrap yourself in your favorite blanket while reading a book and sipping on a warm beverage. Other recommendations are softening your lightning, practicing gratitude, and spending quality time with your family.
3. Alter your diet.
While you may be tempted to turn to comfort food, eating a healthy diet is one of the most effective ways to alter your mood. Some food you should enjoy during the winter include:
Lean proteins like white-meat poultry and yogurt.
Omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, walnuts, and flax seeds.
Blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries.
Leafy greens, oatmeal, oranges, lentils, and black-eyed peas since they contain folic acid.
Food sources with Vitamin B-12, think clams, oysters, crab, eggs, and cottage cheese.
Anything that contains Vitamin D, aka the “sunshine vitamin, such as milk, egg yolks, mushrooms, and fish that have bones.
Bananas have been found to reduce anxiety and improve sleep.
Dark chocolate when you’ve earned a treat.
4. Stimulate your senses.
Sensory stimulation is vital for the development of babies and children. For older adults, it can improve cognitive function and maintain daily functions. Some adults, however, have found that this can also improve their mood and outlook.
Ways to supercharge your senses include:
Smelling fresh ground coffee or essential oils like lavender.
Listening to music, at a safe level, and alternating genres.
Doing eye exercises, such as rolling your eyes and looking through binoculars.
Mixing up your diet so that your taste buds can experience new tastes.
Paying more attention to how things feel.
5. Get moving.
Regular exercise is the most powerful way to fight back against seasonal depression -- especially when it’s outside. However, the weather may prevent you from going for a jog, hike, or bike ride. And, COVID may make it difficult to visit your local gym.
However, bear the elements by layering up and wearing clothing that keeps you both dry and warm. Even a daily 30-minute walk will suffice -- you also get the benefit of getting some natural light. But, for the days that it’s too unbearable outside, there are plenty of exercises you can do from the comfort of your home like yoga, jumping jacks, climbing the straits, push-ups, squats, or playing with your kids.
6. Cross an item off your to-do-list.
Whenever you cross something off your to-do-list or complete a project, your brain releases dopamine -- which makes you feel happy and satisfied. Best of all? It doesn’t matter the size of the goal. You’ll still feel accomplished and in a good mood whether you clean out a kitchen drawer, file your taxes, repaint your bedroom, or complete an online course.
7. Plan something to look forward to.
“Humans are extremely future-oriented, Christian Waugh, an associate professor of psychology at Wake Forest University, told VICE. From making weekend plans to plotting a five-year career path, humans have the unique ability to set goals and envision how to get there and how it’ll feel when they do.”
In fact, science has found that positive anticipation is a powerful motivator and can help reduce stress. However, make sure that you’re purposeful and realistic. For example, you could plan a family game night, a weekly catch-up call with a friend, or what restaurant you’ll go to when it’s safe.
8. Talk about it.
Finally, open up and talk about how you’re feeling. Whether it's your significant others, best friend, parent, therapist, or psychologist. Simply sharing how you feel might be enough to make you feel a little better. However, you may receive helpful advice on how to effectively deal with the winter blues.