It’s that time of year – the grey days of mid-winter. As part of our ongoing “Caring for the Caregiver” month of January, we wanted to take a moment to offer our own tips for Beating the Winter Blues. Seasonal depression can make it hard to motivate yourself to make changes, but there are plenty of steps you can take to help yourself feel better. Recovery takes time but you’ll likely feel a little better each day. By adopting healthy habits and scheduling fun and relaxation into your day, you can help lift the cloud of seasonal affective disorder and keep it from coming back.
Tip #1: Get as much natural sunlight as possible—it’s free!
Whenever possible, get outside during daylight hours and expose yourself to the sun without wearing sunglasses (but never stare directly at the sun).
- Take a short walk outdoors, have your coffee outside if you can stay warm enough.
- Increase the amount of natural light in your home and workplace by opening blinds and drapes and sitting near windows.
- Some people find that painting walls in lighter colors or using daylight simulation bulbs also helps combat winter SAD.
Tip #2: Exercise regularly—it can be as effective as medication
Regular exercise is a powerful way to fight seasonal depression, especially if you’re able to exercise outside in natural daylight.
- Regular exercise can boost serotonin, endorphins, and other feel-good brain chemicals. In fact, exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication.
- Exercise can also help to improve your sleep and boost your self-esteem.
- Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of activity on most days. Even something as simple as walking a dog, for example, can be good exercise for you and the animal, as well as a great way to get outdoors and interact with other people.
Tip #3: Reach out to family and friends—and let them help
Close relationships are vital in reducing isolation and helping you manage SAD. Participate in social activities, even if you don’t feel like it. It may feel more comfortable to retreat into your shell, but being around other people will boost your mood. Even if you’ve retreated from relationships that were once important to you, make the effort to reconnect or start new relationships.
- Call or email an old friend to meet for coffee. Or reach out to someone new—a work colleague or neighbor, for example. Most of us feel awkward about reaching out, but be the one to break the ice.
- Join a support group for depression. Sometimes, just talking about what you’re going through can help you feel better. Being with others who are facing the same problems can help reduce your sense of isolation and provide inspiration to make positive changes.
- Meet new people with a common interest by taking a class, joining a club, or enrolling in a special interest group that meets on a regular basis. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something that’s fun for you.
- Volunteer your time. Helping others is one of the best ways to feel better about yourself, expand your social network, and overcome SAD.
Tip #4: Eat the right diet
Eating small, well-balanced meals throughout the day, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, will help you keep your energy up and minimize mood swings.
- While the symptoms of SAD can make you crave sugary foods and simple carbohydrates, such as pasta and white bread, complex carbohydrates are a better choice. Foods such as oatmeal, whole grain bread, brown rice, and bananas can boost your feel-good serotonin levels without the subsequent sugar crash.
- Foods rich in certain omega-3 fats—such as oily fish, walnuts, soybeans, and flaxseeds—can also improve your mood and may even boost the effectiveness of antidepressant medication.
Tip #5: Take steps to deal with stress—by making time for fun
Whatever the time of year, too much stress can exacerbate or even trigger depression. Figure out the things in your life that stress you out, such as work overload or unsupportive relationships, and make a plan to avoid them or minimize their impact.
- Practicing daily relaxation techniques can help you manage stress, reduce negative emotions such as anger and fear, and boost feelings of joy and well-being. Try yoga, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation.
- Do something you enjoy every day. Having fun is a great stress buster, so make time for leisure activities that bring you joy, whether it be painting, playing the piano, working on your car, or simply hanging out with friends.
Here a handy infographic that might help you visualize some of the key points about the Winter Blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder:
Have you experienced, or are you experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder, or the Winter Blues? Come to our Free Seminar, “How to Beat the Winter Blues on January 19 at 2pm.
This post originally appeared as part of this article on helpguide.org by Lawrence Robinson and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.