When the seasons start to change and the weather cools, does your mood fall like the leaves? Worldwide, many people experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) during the winter. There are many reasons why this may be, from lack of sunlight to poor habits. Everyone is different, so what might be detrimental to one person might not affect you. But here are a few things you can do if you are feeling anxious and depressed as the sky darkens.
Bask in the Sunshine
One of the hardest parts about the latter half of the year is the sun, specifically the lack thereof. Over the course of fall and winter, the total daylight hours decrease. As simple as it may sound, lack of exposure to sunlight can have a profound effect on your mental health. This is because humans are a bit like plants — we need sunlight. Without the sun, people can start to develop symptoms of anxiety and depression.
You can counteract this by making sure to schedule time for sun exposure into your day. Even if it’s cold, just a few minutes of sun on your face can do wonders. That’s because sun exposure is one of the main ways your body produces vitamin D. And numerous systems in your body depend on having enough vitamin D to function properly. Without it, these systems, including your brain, will struggle.
Another way to get vitamin D is through supplements. The sun isn’t always shining in winter, and supplements can make a big difference. You can also invest in your mental health by purchasing a SAD lamp. These lamps replicate sunny rays to trick your body into thinking you’re standing in the sun. In addition to vitamin D, they also cause your brain to release more serotonin, which is a feel-good hormone.
No matter how you do it, make sure you soak up those rays of sunshine when you can. Maintaining your vitamin D levels is important for staying healthy and happy during winter.
Keep a Healthy Routine
People tend to stay inside more often during the winter months. You may go out less with friends, sleep in, and eat more — a bit like hibernation. This is natural, but it can get out of hand. If you let your habits and yourself go, your mental health will follow. So it’s important to maintain the three pillars of health all winter long: regular sleep, healthy eating, and consistent exercise.
Waking up and getting out of bed during the winter can be tough. When you awake to find nothing but darkness, it can be demotivating. Plus, the warm blankets protect you from the cold outside. However, it’s important to make sure you don’t sleep too much. Oversleeping can throw off your circadian rhythm — something that’s already likely given the fewer hours of daylight. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule will help your body stay in tune with its natural rhythms.
Likewise, it’s crucial to keep eating healthily, whatever that means for you. Everyone has a different diet. However, it’s no secret that it can be tempting to let your diet go during the holidays. The holidays are packed to the brim with some of the most delicious foods all year. You can still enjoy that Thanksgiving apple pie — just make sure you balance out all that extra sugar appropriately.
Finally, if you’re not exercising, start. Exercise naturally releases endorphins and other feel-good hormones. In turn, this can boost your mental health. If you find that the dark and the cold demotivate you from working out, join a gym. Find a friend who would like to go together. Consistently putting yourself in an environment that encourages you to exercise can help you prevent your motivation from faltering.
Plan Trips and Events
It is possible to be maintaining your health but still feel stuck. This might be especially true for you if you live in a particularly cold or snowy place. So why not leave? Is there a warm, beautiful place you’ve always wanted to visit? Winter is the perfect time to go.
Taking a vacation — especially one to a warm, sunny location — can be just the reprieve you need. Planning a vacation ahead of time can also give you something to look forward to. People thrive when they feel hope for the future. So give yourself an escape to anticipate ahead of time. The cold sting of the winter wind won’t bite as hard when you know you’ll soon be free of it.
And even if you can’t escape the cold entirely, planning gatherings of friends and family will liven up the season. Sure — Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s are great, but what about the weeks that come after? The end-of-year holiday season can go by in an instant, while January, February, and even March can drag on endlessly. Start a new tradition with those close to you to help keep up a cheery attitude during the darker weeks. The last week of January is a perfect time to hold a fun event.
If plans fall through, plan a date with yourself instead! Allow yourself a guilt-free day to watch your favorite movie, play your favorite game, or cook your favorite meal. No interruptions — this is time for you, however you choose to spend it. Once a week or once a month, a date with yourself can do wonders for your mental health.
Keep Busy and Maintain Momentum
The changing of the seasons can be a time when people naturally feel a bit more anxiety and loneliness. But it doesn’t have to be so bad. There are numerous ways to help boost your mental health, even when the cold weather drags on.
Personal health and self-development are two of the best ways to upkeep your mental health no matter what the time of year. And scheduling special events with others or by yourself can give you a burst of joy amidst the darkness. Everyone is different, so find what works for you and lets you make the most of the cold season.