The winter blues, sometimes called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a condition that causes depression symptoms during the winter months. One common reason is that there is less daylight during the winter months, and this can cause or exacerbate depression in people who are prone to it. Another reason is that there is often a lot of stress associated with the holiday season, then a letdown afterward. In places with a cold, snowy climate, being stuck indoors for an extended period of time can contribute, too. The good news is that there are steps you can take to feel better. Here are nine ways to fight off the winter blues.
1. Spend Time Outside
Even if the weather is overcast and cold, spending time outdoors can help stave off depression. Being outdoors can increase your mindfulness, boost your self-esteem, and give you new insight on problems that you need to solve. Try to get outside every day, even if it’s only for a few minute. If the weather is really frightful or you are feeling physically under the weather, position yourself near a window and crack it open for a few minutes of fresh air, if possible.
Another benefit of getting outside is that it often leads to exercise. Getting 30 minutes of exercise each day can boost your spirits and alleviate some of the symptoms of winter depression. You don’t need to put in a full workout if you don’t have the time, energy or desire. Instead, go for a short walk two or three times per day. As long as your exercise lasts at least 10 minutes, you can count it toward your 30 minute total. It could be as simple as taking the dog for a walk, dancing while cooking dinner, or doing a short yoga routine.
3. Eat Well
During the holiday season, in particular, it’s common to fill up on heavy foods for some meals while skipping other meals. Take control of your eating schedule and be sure you’re getting the nutrition you need. If you are going to a party or holiday gathering later in the day, eat fresh, light foods like yogurt, salad, and fruit for breakfast and lunch to balance out the foods high in fat, sugar or salt. Eating well will keep your blood sugar at a consistent level and this can also keep your moods on a more even keel.
4. Get Your Vitamin D Levels Checked
If you’ve ever heard vitamin D called “the sunshine vitamin,” then you might already know that the human body creates it in response to sun exposure. While this is great news during the summer, particularly if you spend a lot of time outdoors, it’s not so great in the winter, when much of the country has less sun exposure than is needed for optimal vitamin D levels. A lack of vitamin D can cause depression symptoms, so it’s important to have your levels checked. Don’t take supplements without getting your levels checked first because the vitamin is fat-soluble and you can overdose on it if you take too much.
5. Get Out of the House
Sometimes, spending too much time at home and not doing anything interesting or out of the ordinary can make you feel like you’re stuck in a rut, leading to the winter blues. Make some plans to go out with friends, to see a show, or to explore a nearby town. Having (and sticking to) plans to get out of your normal routine might be just the thing you need to put a little more pep in your step this winter.
6. Find Something to Laugh At
When you’re down in the doldrums this winter, find something to raise your spirits. You know what makes you laugh: Is it the holiday classic, Elf? Maybe the British improv show, Whose Line Is It, Anyway? is more your style. Or maybe you crack up watching dancing cat videos on YouTube or scrolling through political memes on Facebook. Whatever it is that tickles your funny bone, take a few minutes each day to indulge. You know what they say: Laughter is the best medicine.
7. Try Meditation or Yoga
Spending some time each day quietly reflecting and grounding yourself mentally can be just as effective as antidepressants for some people when it comes to depression, seasonally induced or otherwise. Meditation and yoga are two practices that can help you become more mindful. It takes some practice, but guided meditation audio files are a great way to get started. To learn more about yoga, check out a yoga studio or look for how-to videos online. The most important thing is to pay attention to your breathing and to accept your thoughts without judging or trying to stop the flow.
8. Use a Light Therapy Box
Some people with seasonal depression have luck with a light therapy box. This type of box mimics the sun and, when used as directed, can help you feel better. There are a few caveats: First, choose the right kind of box. Some boxes are made for other conditions and emit UV rays. For winter blues, you need one that does not emit UV rays. Secondly, if you have bipolar disorder, the light can stimulate a manic episode, so talk this over with your mental health professional. Finally, if you have diabetes or glaucoma, speak to your physician or eye doctor before using a light therapy box.
9. See a Doctor or Therapist
If simple lifestyle changes like those described above don’t work to make you feel better or if you are having severe symptoms, check in with your doctor. You could have a health condition causing symptoms similar to those of the winter blues or you might have a more severe form of depression. Counseling or antidepressants might be the key to getting you through this difficult time. There’s no need to suffer; there are treatments available for seasonal affective disorder, so contact your doctor or mental health professional if you aren’t seeing any improvement within a week or two.