How to beat the winter blues

A lonely young woman sitting on a bench beside the lake, winter time.

27 Oct How to beat the winter blues

Fall can be beautiful. But it means that shorter days and longer evenings are upon us. And, every year, when daylight saving time ends, we have even one less hour of sunlight in the afternoon and darkness falls quite early. The long, cold and often wet evenings may affect some people’s mood. Some people start to feel down as early as in the second half of August, when the days start to get noticeably shorter. The reason is the decreasing number of sunlight hours per day. So as fall rolls in, and the clock is turned back, you, or someone you know, may feel more and more depressed. People who experience a depressive episode this time of year may have what has been termed Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Others, who don’t have a fully blown depressive disorder may just feel down, low energy or have little motivation.

The good news, however, is that whether or not you have SAD, you can take a few small steps that may help you get through the challenges of the season.

Steps to ward off the winter blues:

1. Exercise!  Research studies have long indicated that regular exercise is a mood enhancer and that the positive effects of exercising are as strong as anti-depressant medication. Find something you like to do or at least you don’t hate doing, so you are more likely to stick with it. Joining an exercising class or going with a friend can help with motivation. Exercise for at least 30 minutes every day or at least 5 times a week. Some people find morning exercising to be best, as it gives them energy for the day. Others say that evening exercising works best for them, especially during fall and winter, because exercising when it is dark helps them get through the long evening hours. Whatever you choose to do and whenever you do it, just do it and you will feel the difference.

2. Go outside during the day. When it is cold and wet we tend to take cover. But sunlight is essential for our physical and mental health. And, surprisingly, even in the cloudiest, greyest day, the light outside is a thousand times or more stronger than indoor light. So put your rain gear on, take your umbrella and try to spend 15-30 minutes a day outside. If it’s sunny, take your sunglasses off for at least 10-15 minutes. Don’t stare at the sun, of course, but allow sunlight to get into your eyes. Sunlight is processed in the brain in a way that makes more Serotonin available in the synapses ( an area of communication between neurones), which, in turn, helps to elevate mood. And hey, If you walk outside for half an hour you do steps one and two together. Two birds with one stone!

3. Socialize. Human beings are social creatures. For millions of years, our brains evolved in the context of other people; family, tribe, village, etc. and while it may sometimes feel like a drag to go out in wet or very cold weather, socializing can be a great mood enhancer. The weather isn’t that important when you’re having fun with friends. Try to socialize with those you feel comfortable with and minimize socializing with negative, judgmental, critical people. This, by the way, is true for all seasons.

4. Cuddle with your loved one. Fall and winter are great for connecting with your loved one, if you have one. When there’s a storm outside, what’s more fun than cuddling, snuggling, sitting by the fireplace, playing games or having sex with your partner?

Research shows that positive, harmonious romantic relationships enhance both physical and mental health.

5. Keep a journal. Journaling is a practice that has been found helpful to many people. Journaling can help you keep track of your thoughts and feelings and identify patterns of thoughts and behaviours which are keeping you down. Journaling also helps by externalizing your feelings so they are not bottled inside of you.

6. Practice Yoga and/ or meditation. Both Yoga and meditation have received research support for being mood enhancers. If you can tolerate hot yoga, it has been described as the ultimate body, mind and heart warming activity.

7. Consume Omega 3 fatty acids. There is growing evidence that Omega 3 fatty acids can alleviate some depressive symptoms. Omega 3 is found in fish like Salmon and Mackerel but vegan options for Omega 3 also exist, for example in Chia seeds. Consult a nutritionist or a naturopathic doctor on ways to increase your Omega 3 intake that are suitable for you and your dietary requirements or restrictions.