Preview: 6 strategies on how to cope with winter blues that will help you enjoy the season.
Pulling into my neighborhood, the breath catches in my throat a little. The trees lining my street are exploding with bold oranges, cheerful yellows and deep reds. If I squint, it reminds me of a bowl of Fruit Loops I’d sneak at grandma’s (my health-nut mom never bought them!). The light has a certain nostalgic, amber quality.
But there’s a sense of dread underneath all the beauty of autumn.
The same thing used to happen every year. In autumn, my mood would …fall (pardon the pun). I would struggle for days to figure out why. I’d suddenly remember that as a child, I was profoundly affected by seasonal and weather changes. I didn’t put a name on this phenomenon until I was in my mid-thirties: Seasonal Affective Disorder.
How to Cope With Winter Blues: 6 Ways to Ease the Gloom of Seasonal Affective Disorder
If you experience an increasing sense of melancholy when there’s less sunlight, you’re not alone. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) impacts up to 5% of the adult population. Another 10-20% suffer from mild winter blues. (source)
[Disclaimer: I am not a medical expert, I’m only sharing my opinion on what has helped me. Please consult a health care practitioner before using any alternative therapies. Some links are affiliate links.]
1: Let There Be Light
Spending a few minutes outside or by a sunny window in the morning can increase levels of mood-boosting hormone serotonin. I’m a bit of a hothouse lily, but I’ve learned to bundle up and get outside, even when the weather is a tit nipply. It’s invigorating!
For a few years, I used a Verilux HappyLight in winter. I’d sit in front of it for 15 minutes to an hour, once a day.
For both seasonal and nonseasonal depression, the effectiveness of light therapy is approximately the same as antidepressant medications, or popular forms of psychotherapy…Dr. Richard S. Schwartz, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School
2: Get Moving
Daily exercise has been the most important technique for easing my SAD symptoms. Exercise is an effective anti-depressant. In the most recent studies, exercise outperforms medication. (source)
Of course, if exercise isn’t enough to ease symptoms, therapy might be in order. If therapy is out of your budget, go here for info on how to save money on mental health.
3: Sniff Away Sadness
Essential oils aren’t just woo-woo. There is solid research that supports the use of aromatherapy for depression. I love orange, grapefruit and lemon for mood-boosting properties.
4: Choose Your Carbs Carefully
Carb cravings can be a problem when your mood dips. Why? Because the brain is begging for a serotonin boost that carbs provide. We need carbohydrates and they’re not the enemy.
Resist the temptation to indulge in sugary, simple carbs that spike then drop your blood sugar (causing more mood instability). Feed your brain with high-fiber fruits and vegetables. A few ideas:
- Pretty pumpkins and squashes. Baked butternut or acorn squash topped with nuts and spices or made into soup, homemade pumpkin spice muffins
- Potatoes of all varieties. Potato soup, sweet potatoes baked with spices and butter, the possibilities are endless.
- Baked apples. So simple, so delicious.
- Whole grain or steel cut oats. A warm bowl of oatmeal with your favorite toppings is especially comforting on chilly mornings.
- Legumes. If you’d like ideas on including more beans into your diet, go here to download a free 30 Days of Beans printable.
5: Get More D
Get to the Doctor and get poked. By that I mean, have your vitamin D levels checked.
A few years ago, I was shocked to find that my D levels were low. I eat D-fortified dairy, salmon and eggs, but my Doctor told me that people over 40 commonly need a supplement despite a healthy diet.
A day trip to the mountains on the peak leaf-viewing weekend. Baking Pumpkin Spice Muffins. A jaunt to the apple-picking orchard (just $50 for a bag that costs $3 at the grocery store, but who’s counting?). One of my favorite authors, Gretchen Rubin, says that rituals increase happiness. I agree:
Research shows that traditions and rituals boost physical and emotional health. They can elevate experiences, enrich memories, strengthen relationships, and reduce decision-making. They can add a sense of whimsy, community, and holiday to our lives.Gretchen Rubin
A change of scenery also boosts our mood. Something as simple as heading to a coffee shop to sip a latte while I write (instead of staying home) can improve my mood.
Other rituals that you reserve for winter can also give you little things to look forward to each day. In other words, go ahead and indulge that PSL craving. Maybe do a little redecorating since you’ll be spending more time in your home. Declutter. Light candles. Play music you love. Cook favorite dishes. Make hot cocoa and popcorn and play a board game with the family.
Autumn conjures up memories of back-to-school excitement, childhood camping trips and those secret bowls of Fruit Loops. I still get nostalgic, but I’m grateful to report that after implementing these tips into my life, I haven’t experienced seasonal depression in several years.