Wintertime starts with the excitement of the holiday hustle and bustle, but as the fun and busy stuff passes some people might start to notice a change in their mood. Some of us might even start to feel it before or during the holiday season. It’s not just the cold weather and the restriction of our normal activities that causes that shift. Our bodies have a natural clock called a circadian rhythm that regulates things like mood and sleep/wake cycles. During the Winter, that’s thrown off by the time change and we just have to keep chugging along with our regular routine, no matter how we feel. If we’re diligent, there are ways to beat those Winter blues.
Along with the time and weather change, some people struggle year round with depression that only worsens in the Winter. Some have sad or negative associations with the holiday season because of past experiences. Some have a lot of anxiety about Christmas because of the stress that spending extra money brings. All of those things compounded make Winter a hard time for a lot of people. We need to consciously make an effort to take good care of ourselves this time of year. Some of the most important things you can do to beat those Winter blues are pretty simple but they take consistency to be helpful.
Movement is one of the best ways to improve your mood. When you increase your heart rate it triggers the production of endorphins, boosting your mood and giving you more energy. But it’s hard to talk yourself into exercising when you already feel tired and kind of cranky or even sad. Do yourself a favor and decide to act based on logic instead of emotion. I usually just talk myself through it. I reason with myself. Yes, I feel bad, but I know based on experience that exercise will change the way I feel, so I push myself to start.
Once you get into it then the endorphins will start to take over and the rest is easy peasy. Something as easy as a 10-15 minute walk or stretching can make a big difference. Be sure to be proactive and get your daily movement in even if you aren’t feeling those Winter blues. Creating the habit of prevention is much easier than trying to get out of a funk.
This doesn’t mean what you probably think. Of course, nutrition is always going to be on every list of things to do to make your life better, no matter the time of year. The truth of the matter is that our bodies are designed to serve us best when we fuel them with real, nutrient dense foods. But in this case I think it’s important to remember that this time of year is harder than others in a lot of ways. When I say eat well in Winter I mean love yourself. I mean it’s not the time for crash diets, deprivation style programs, or harsh and self-sabotaging commitments (there is no right time for that in my opinion, but especially not Winter).
When I say eat well I mean eat healthy food and also eat the Christmas cookies. Eat all the veggies you need and also have the pie. If ever there is a time for balance, it’s Winter time. Deprivation at this time of year can lead to major binges when we fall off the wagon as a result of all the different pressures and feelings that comes with the season. Fill yourself up with nutrient dense food then top it off with a holiday treat. Love yourself.
Get on a Regular Sleep Schedule
Like I mentioned earlier, when Winter hits and time changes, our internal clocks get all wacky. We gain an hour in Winter so it seems like it should be easy to adjust. But then we start going to bed a little earlier because we lose light earlier and we sleep a little later because our brains are confused. Plus it’s cold and no one likes getting out of bed on a cold morning. Then we start getting too much sleep which not only throws off our eating but also messes with our brain function. The time change tweaks the thing that our internal clock relies on to keep us on track — light. The good news is that it won’t take more than a couple of days to adjust if you stick to a schedule.
Give Your Time to Others
This is a less obvious fix, but one that will quickly give your mood a boost. When you’re feeling low it’s easy to get hyper focused on your circumstances. Negative feelings result from focusing on negative feelings. It’s a cycle that can to be broken by gratitude and hope. Those things can quickly be found in the blessing of helping others. There’s nothing quite like focusing on lifting others up to remind you just how blessed you are. Not to mention that it will boost your self-esteem, which has a great amount of pull on your overall mental well being.
Spend Time in Nature
Doses of nature are one of our best medicines. One multi-study analysis of 1252 participants in ten different studies found a decrease in levels of anxiety and bad moods with “green exercise”, or exercise in nature. “Every green environment improved both self esteem and mood; the presence of water generated greater effects.” Exercise can mean just a walk through nature, but from my experience, just sitting in nature positively changes the way I feel entirely.
Embrace the Cold Air
You might be thinking that we’re talking about Winter here. It’s cold and why on earth would I think it’s going to help you to go outside in the frigid temperatures. Well, unless you live somewhere that the temps are legitimately dangerous to be out in, I say bundle up and get your butt out there. Studies have shown that cold air and cold water offer many benefits. Those include easing stress, relieving depression, increasing alertness and energy levels.
My husband and I recently moved and we no longer have a fenced in yard or dog door for our dogs to take themselves out. That means we have to walk them multiple times a day, no matter the weather. I was dreading the Winter months but I’ve found myself taking my husband’s turns at walking the dogs because those 10 minute walks in the cold temperatures, three times a day, make me feel alive. First thing in the morning I walk out the door with the dogs, sleepy-eyed and groggy. By the time we get back inside I’m feeling invigorated, wide awake and ready to take on the day. It’s actually a feeling I know I’ll miss when the warm weather returns.
Talk it Out
If you’re not feeling great mentally it’s really important to share that with someone close to you. I’m not saying they will have answers for you, they might, but chances are that they won’t. The reason I believe you should talk to someone about how you’re feeling is that they can keep you accountable for doing something about it. Have someone check in with you to make sure you’re doing everything you can to ward off those Winter blues. Most importantly, someone to remind you to not be so hard on yourself. You are not alone, there’s nothing wrong with you. You are going through something that millions of other people experience. Share your feelings, allow someone to love you through it.