Do you often experience a change in your mood and energy come fall and throughout the winter? We have all been there…the weather outside drops and our mood just cannot seem to keep up. We want to bundle up in blankets, unplug the phones and freeze out everything and everyone just like that cruel icy wind has done outside.
We end up spending longer amounts of time indoors, feeling sleepier, less energetic and overall doing less of what we used to enjoy oh so much. Most people would agree that they feel better on days that are brighter as opposed to days that are dark and cold which is often referred to as “the winter blues.” However, for some people loss of energy, depressive symptoms, low libido, loss of motivation and concentration continue to be experienced throughout the fall and winter months and does not improve until spring. The prolonged experience of depressive episodes lasting throughout the fall and winter with a natural remittance come spring is commonly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) (Lavoie & Hébert, 2007). According to Lavoie and Hébert (2007) as many as 840,000 Canadians suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.
That being said, there are ways that you can take control over those winter blues and melt them down to mere spring puddles.
Here are 5 ways to help you do just that:
1- Let there be light!
Sure the darkness is great for those late-night movies and when we are trying to sleep, but during the day our brains respond to light. This signals that it is day-time and therefore we need to be awake. By exposing yourself to as little as one hour of sunlight each day, research has shown a significant decrease (up to 80%; Peiser, 2009) in depressive symptoms as well as elevated moods (Penckofer & Ferrans, 2010).
Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that simply utilizing the lighting inside our homes more frequently can aid in hormone regulation and circadian rhythms (our inner clocks that tell us when it is time to be alert and awake; Hecht, 2012). Another great way to achieve this is to take some Vitamin D supplements!
2- Add a splash of color to your diet.
The cold weather can also bring on pesky cravings for foods high in sugar, salt, or fat. As tempting as it may be to reach for those indulgent foods, research shows that choices rich in phytonutrients (natural chemicals that give food color) can keep your immune system strong, provide lasting energy and reduce inflammation that can cause us to feel sluggish (Gardner et al., 2014). So throw in those yellow peppers, red tomatoes or purple cabbage…Brussel sprouts optional.
3- Include physical activities.
We have all read this one… “Exercise is good for you.” But what if I said that as little as 15 minutes of preferred intensity exercise (so at your own pace) was associated with desirable mood changes (Berger et al., 2016). Moreover what if that included things like vacuuming, walking around the block, or even dancing in your underwear…well it does! Studies have suggested that individuals report an improvement in mood up to 50% (Peiser, 2009) by increasing daily physical activity, so go ahead and dance like there is no one watching!
4- Laughter really can be the best medicine.
Ever wonder why when we laugh, we feel really good? Well it is not a coincidence. Research shows that bouts of laughter throughout the day can lead to decreased levels of cortisol, the body’s “stress hormone” and indirectly stimulate endorphins, our brain’s natural painkillers (Navarro et al., 2014). More than that, laughter allows our minds to believe that we have a level of control over a situation where we may feel helpless. It also boosts both mood and self-esteem (Kim et al., 2015). So chat with that wacky friend, watch that comedy special or go and enjoy a day/night of full belly laughs!
5- Pamper yourself.
Finally, as much as we can want to tackle the world or check-off all those items on our to-do lists, it is important to keep ourselves high on that list of priorities. That could mean curling up with a good book, taking a hot bath or trying out that new recipe you pinned on Pinterest four months ago.
Whatever it looks like, practicing self-care has been shown to decrease burnout and elevate dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin levels, all of which improve mood and overall life satisfaction (Cleveland Clinic, 2011).