Many people notice a change in their mood during the winter months. You might experience an increased sadness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, or a disruption in your sleep. It could be because the days are shorter and your time exposed to natural sunlight is significantly less this time of year. Add to that the colder weather and the fact that most of us spend less time outside in general. This can lead to our bodies producing more melatonin. The body naturally makes more melatonin when it’s dark. So, when the days are shorter and darker, more melatonin is made. More melatonin can cause a disruption in our circadian rhythm (or sleep cycle) making us more sleepy or lethargic.
“Winter blues is a general term, not a medical diagnosis. It’s fairly common, and it’s more mild than serious. It usually clears up on its own in a fairly short amount of time,” says Dr. Matthew Rudorfer, a mental health expert at the National Institute of Health.
But when the change in seasons causes you to feel sad or unmotivated to the point that it interferes with your daily functioning, it may mean you are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD). SAD can also include anhedonia or the inability to enjoy things that you used to enjoy. The good news is that both the winter blues and seasonal affective disorder are treatable.
5 Tips For Beating The Winter Blues
Here are five things that you can do to beat the winter blues. Most of these things are free and easy to do.
1. Get Outside
Licensed psychologist Rachel Goldman, Phd says, “Being in the sunlight helps balance serotonin activity (the happiness chemical), balances your circadian rhythm (or sleep cycle), and increases vitamin D levels, which can all lead to an improved emotional state.”
As hard as it may be, getting outside during the winter months is crucial to staying balanced and avoiding the winter blues or SAD. So bundle up and go outside for a walk, even it’s just for 5 minutes. Once your body gets warmed up you more than likely won’t realize how cold it is.
If being outside isn’t an option light therapy- exposure to a special light for a certain amount of time each day may be helpful.
2. Check Your Vitamin D
Many people don’t get enough vitamins in their diet and vitamin d is one of the few that has been scientifically linked to mood. If you are not getting outside very often, you’ll also miss out on getting vitamin d naturally through sunlight. If you’re feeling depressed or a decrease in energy, you may be deficient in vitamin d. Consult with your medical professional to see if you need to take vitamin d supplements.
3. Stay Hydrated
Our bodies are made up of about 60 percent water and our brains are actually made up of about 75%! We lose water throughout the day and it’s important to replenish our supply so that our bodies can function properly. Drinking water actually stimulates the hormones that produce endorphins- there are those happiness chemicals again.
4. Spend Time With Friends and Family
Being around others can significantly impact our mood. We all were born with an innate desire to be connected to others. Even if you’re feeling down and not in the mood to hang out with your friends or family, reach out to someone to let them know you’re having a hard time. Chances are they will want to help and will suggest something you can do to get out of your funk. My friends and I have a code word that we use to let the others know that we are having a hard time. They know that if I say I’m riding the struggle bus, that I need them to come over and drag me out of bed or to call my therapist.
5. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT is a research based form of treatment that focuses on helping you understand your thoughts and behaviors and how they affect your mood. The cognitive part is about challenging your negative thinking patterns and learning how to flip the script in your brain to healthier more helpful thoughts. The behavioral component includes learning coping skills for your anxiety or depression that can help you move forward and live a happier life.
In a recent American Journal of Psychiatry study, researchers described a trial that compared the use of light therapy alone to a combination of light therapy and CBT. Results were positive in both groups; however, after one year, participants treated with CBT were faring much better than individuals treated with light therapy alone. Further analysis controlled for ongoing treatment still revealed that the CBT participants showed more improvement.
If you aren’t sure if what you’re experiencing is the winter blues or seasonal affective disorder, seek help from a trained professional. I offer a free 10 minute phone conversation where we can discuss if working with me might be a good fit for you. Fill out the form below and I will reach out to schedule a time for us to chat. You can also check out www.psychologytoday.com to find a trained therapist in your area.