During the shorter winter days, you might experience depression, low energy, loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy, and more. If so, you might be experiencing Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — a form of depression that is triggered by the changes in daylight and weather that occur in winter.
So, if SAD has got you down, this article will offer you useful ways to cope and fend off those winter blues.
1. Think Like a Norwegian
The mind is a powerful thing, and changing your mindset can help you embrace the winter with a more positive attitude.
As SAD primarily affects people in the winter when the days are shorter, previous experts believed that it was the result of a lack of sunshine or daylight — thus, suggesting that the farther north or south of the equator you go, where darkness is more extreme in winter, the more people will experience SAD.
However, studies using Northern Norwegian towns for reference showed that having a lack of daylight might not be the problem. Tromosø, one of the most northern cities in Norway, for example, has very low rates of SAD despite the fact that the sun doesn’t rise at all between November 21st and January 21st.
So, how are the people of Tromsø keeping their spirits up throughout the dark winters? They have adopted a positive, Norwegian-winter mindset. People in the city embrace winter and actively work on expressing more positive feelings about all the great things that winter brings.
These studies in Tromsø suggest that a lack of daylight is not the problem but rather the way people think about winter. Changing your mindset to one that embraces winter and looks for the positives as opposed to the negatives might not be a cure-all for SAD, but it can help significantly.
2. Try Light Therapy
Again, as most people feel down in the winter due to shorter days and less sunshine, exposing yourself to artificial sunlight can help. There are a number of daylight lamps and phototherapy boxes available on the market intended to help people ease their seasonal depression.
Though the above research suggested that mind over matter may be the key, light therapy is still considered a first-line treatment by many medical experts. Most recommend sitting in front of the lightbox or lamp for about 20 to 30 minutes a day to trigger chemical changes in the brain that boost your mood.
3. Keep Your Body Moving
As a result of shorter days, many people tend to exercise less, which can also contribute to feeling more “icky” and down this time of year. Exercising every day doesn’t just help keep your body in shape, it also releases chemicals that help with mood regulation. So if you want to boost your energy and feel better during the winter, it’s important to keep your body moving.
4. Maintain a Healthy Diet
Winter doesn’t just mean darker days — it also means more events and parties because of the holidays. But more partying often leads to poor eating habits. Significantly changing your diet this time of year can make you feel bad, which can make symptoms of seasonal depression worse. We’re not saying you can’t indulge a little and treat yourself, but it’s all about balance.
For example, if you know you’ll be attending a party or a family gathering over the weekend where there will be lots of alcohol and goodies, try eating healthier during the week before and after to compensate. Also, if you’re planning on drinking alcohol, make sure you drink lots of water in between to keep yourself hydrated.
5. Stay Social
Many people like to “hibernate” during the winter months and stay inside because of the cold, but this sudden drop in social activities can contribute to SAD. So, to beat the winter blues, try to still prioritize socializing as much as possible.
If you really need the alone time, then don’t force yourself to go out. But sometimes, when we are feeling down and just want to stay in, this is actually when we need to get out and socialize to boost our mood.
Getting out and being social also helps you get outside and breathe fresh air, which is also important to help regulate your mood. Nature and fresh air, even when it’s cold, does the body good.
6. Take Vitamin D Supplements
A lack of sunlight means a lack of Vitamin D, which is an essential nutrient that helps our bodies function properly. So another way to fight off symptoms of SAD and keep yourself feeling good is to take Vitamin D supplements to replace what you would normally get from the sunshine in the warmer months. Consult your doctor before adding any vitamins to your regimen.
7. Find Ways to De-stress
Wintertime doesn’t just make people more down and depressed because of the lack of sun. It’s also an incredibly stressful time of year due to the holidays and increased obligations. And if you are feeling stressed or anxious, it can definitely make your seasonal depression worse.
It’s important to find meaningful ways to de-stress this time of year to beat the blues and manage all the added chaos that comes with the holidays. This can include yoga and meditation, healthy coping mechanisms like new hobbies, changes of scenery, and more time to relax and focus on your needs.
8. Maintain a Healthy Work-life Balance
Not only can our personal lives become more stressful during the winter and the holidays, but so too can our work lives. Many industries get busier over the holidays, which can lead to your employer asking you to work more days or longer hours. But pushing yourself too hard at work and at home can lead to burnout and even mental health issues that can make your SAD worse.
Whether you’re trying to make it through winter while working remotely or going into the office, it’s crucial that you set boundaries and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Just because business is booming this time of year does not mean your employer can force you into working more days or hours than you are normally supposed to. You are a human being with needs and personal life.
So if you’re feeling added pressure to work more that you don’t think is fair and is making your SAD worse, talk to your HR department about it.
If you are struggling with SAD, you are not alone. It’s incredibly common for people to feel down this time of year and, as such, there are lots of resources that can help. If you can’t find what you need on your own, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor. They can direct you toward a therapist that can help if your SAD gets too bad, or they can prescribe anti-depressants. There is no shame in asking for help if you need it.