With winter–the gloomy skies, cold temperatures, and lack of outdoor time–comes depression for many people. The feelings of sadness and dreary drudgery are often called “the winter blues,” or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include:
- Feelings of sadness most of the day for an extended period of time
- Sleeping too much
- Anhedonia (losing interest in activities you usually like)
- Cravings for carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
Some people suffer from SAD for the entire winter. But can you mitigate or prevent the winter blues? Yes, you can. Read on for cost-effective, doable strategies.
Check in with Your Primary Care Physician
Attending a “wellness” visit with your primary care physician is the first step to mitigate the effects of SAD. You want to make sure that you don’t have any other physical causes to your depression, like low thyroid hormones. Get a physical examination and blood work done to ensure you have adequate vitamin D in your bloodstream. Many health insurance companies will cover an annual physical.
Walk Outside for 30 Minutes Every Day, No Exceptions
You need to get outside during the winter. That’s one of the basic tenets of daily self-care (the others are getting enough sleep, eating well, drinking water, socializing with an actual person, and exercise). Make a daily walk mandatory, no exceptions, even if you feel awful and it’s the last thing you want to do. You need sunlight–which is in short supply during the winter–to head off the winter blues. Take a walk during your lunch break.
Uncover your Windows During the Day to Let in Sunlight
If you spread the curtains wide open during the day, you can maximize the sunlight you absorb, and save money on heating bills for the house. Uncover your windows and let that sunlight stream in, and make sure to sit in it.
Purchase a Few Full-Spectrum Bulbs
Full-spectrum lightbulbs mimic the natural light of the sun, so invest in 3-5 bulbs for the lights you use most around the house. Spend some time under these lights every day, and you may feel your mood lifting. Purchase one bulb for your desk lamp, and shine it directly on yourself when you’re working on your computer. After winter is over, change the bulbs out for standard LEDs to maximize the lifespan of all the bulbs.
Eat Plenty of Fruits, Vegetables, and Whole Grains
When it comes to managing depression, both the Mediterranean diet and the whole-foods, plant-based diets can help if followed correctly. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains during the winter, and your mood may lift. Figure out which colorful vegetables you like and have those for dinner every night. Eat fruit for snacks.
Eat Foods with Vitamin D
Your diet is so important to your mood. If you consume foods with vitamin D, like fish, cheese, and eggs, then you may feel better. Your body absorbs natural sources of the vitamin better than supplements. Enjoy scrambled eggs for breakfast. Eat a tuna melt for lunch. Eat salmon for dinner. You’re not absorbing sunlight from outside, so you need as much vitamin D as possible.
Eat Foods with B12
Beef, fish, and fortified milk all have B12, a vitamin essential for managing depression. Low levels of vitamin B12 trigger intense feelings of sadness and anxiety. Fish is especially good to eat during the winter because it has both vitamins D and B12. You don’t have to eat beef, fish, or fortified milk daily, but have a steak with a huge glass of milk once in a while.
If you are vegan or eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet, then make sure you’re supplementing both of these vitamins.
Become a Social Butterfly
Socializing with actual people is awful when you’re depressed. I know, I’ve been there. But scheduling social events outside the home will get you out into the world and talking with people, which everyone needs, even the most introverted people. Socialization is especially important during the winter, as you’re tempted to stick your head into the ground like an ostrich. Don’t do that. Find groups on Meetup.com or at church, if you’re religious.
Go to Bed at the Same Time, and Wake up at the Same Time, Too
One of the hardest things for me in the winter is getting up in the morning. When it’s still dark, I want nothing more than to curl up under the covers and sleep. This is dangerous because it leads to oversleeping, which is a symptom of and can contribute to SAD. Set your alarm for the same time every morning, and go to bed at the same time every night. This will train your body to only get the eight to nine hours of sleep you need.
Try some or all of these strategies, but the more you try, the more you’ll be able to prevent or mitigate the effects of seasonal affective disorder. It’s common to feel the winter blues. You’re not alone. Try a mix of things which can help.