Many people experience increased mental health struggles during the winter time. Learn about how to cope in this blog post.
Have you ever felt blue during the winter? You're not alone. Between the lack of sunlight, daylight savings, and an increase in sedentary habits, many people fall victim to seasonal symptoms or even Seasonal Affective Disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, SAD is very common, and tends to occur in climates where there is less sunlight over the wintertime. It causes increased fatigue, depression, and withdrawal. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help yourself. This blog will include several strategies you can try to get you through this time.
Coping Strategies for Winter Blues
Vitamin D Supplementation: Many seasonal affective symptoms can be attributed to lack of sunlight, especially with Daylight Savings factored in. Sun exposure is where we obtain most of our vitamin D, and some people become deficient in the winter. In fact, 42% of Americans are vitamin D deficient. The rate is even higher in people of color, whose skin is adapted to different climates. Vitamin D supplementation has been shown to improve symptoms in mild cases of SAD. If you're curious about your vitamin D levels, you can ask your doctor to run blood work or for supplement recommendations. Some people will make the choice to take a vitamin D supplement as a preventative measure, even without bloodwork. Recommending specific supplements is outside of my scope of practice, but this may be something you decide to research yourself and talk to your doctor about.
Get More Sun Exposure: Piggybacking off the above, another way to get more vitamin D is through regular sun exposure. This might look like going for regular walks during daylight hours, for example, on your lunch break. It can also look like opening windows and blinds during the day.
Try Light Therapy: Light Therapy involves sitting in front of a special lightbox, often for an hour close to waking up. You could look into purchasing your own lightbox.
Go To Therapy: Like our climate, humans also go through seasons of our lives. Sometimes our personal seasons correspond with the weather. Winter is a time where many of us spend more time indoors and become more reflective and introspective. Having a trusted therapist during this time can be helpful. Getting booked with a therapist early (ie, not waiting until December or January when SAD is at its peak) is a good idea, as many therapists' practices become more full during the winter. In addition, addressing underlying personal patterns and trauma more generally can help improve mental health overall, helping you become more resilient during the winter time.
Get Some Exercise: In the winter, it can be tempting to want to cozy up in a cocoon inside and hibernate. However, exercise becomes increasingly important in the winter for its mood-boosting effects. Consider finding a form of exercise you genuinely enjoy. You can even make this into a social occasion by inviting a friend.
Stay Connected: As stated above, it can be tempting to want to "hibernate" in the winter. You may even notice social invites drop as fun outdoor activities like summer concerts or trips to the pool are no longer an option. Make a point of staying connected to your friends and spending time with them. Loneliness is a major contributor to depression.
Get Away: If you have enough resources to afford vacations, you may want to consider timing your vacations during the wintertime. The novelty can lift your spirits in the winter, and if you go to a sunny location, the sunlight may also boost your mood.
Set Boundaries: Some people struggle more in the winter due to challenging family dynamics. It can be difficult to set boundaries and say "no" for the fear of hurting someone else's feelings. However, your relationships will be healthier when you are personally healthy. Consider whether you need to set boundaries and limits during holidays, such as not expecting yourself to attend 4 different Thanksgivings (even if you have a big family) or setting a limit for how much time you will spend at a holiday event for your wellbeing.
Keep Up With Your Self-Care Practices: It is good practice to have self-care habits in place, such as going to therapy, meditating regularly, going to yoga or an exercise class, or having a spiritual practice. While these things may seem more challenging when you feel blue, they are all the more important to keep your spirits high.
Practice Self-Compassion: Elaborating on #9, it is important to balance self-care practices with self-compassion. Sometimes self-care looks like staying home to take care of your emotional wellness instead of pushing yourself. Make sure to balance all of these tips with a healthy dose of self-compassion. Sometimes self-compassion looks like going for your daily walk or meditating, and sometimes it involves forgoing these practices to tend to your emotions. You can use your discernment to determine what you need.
Ask For Help: It's okay to ask for help. If your symptoms worsen, especially if you are having thoughts of harming yourself, tell a therapist, doctor, psychiatrist, trusted friend, or call 988, the national hotline. Remember that you are not a burden and everyone needs help sometimes.
The strategies here do not constitute medical advice. Medical advice is outside the scope of a public blog post. Always speak with a medical or mental health professional directly before trying a new intervention. Use your own discernment with these practices