Every year as the temperature starts to drop, it seems as though we all gear up for winter. There is the end of the year projects, holiday get-togethers, lots of food, the thought of a new year approaching. While the winter season can be a magical time of year, it is often a very stressful time year.
This year the impending season may feel even more overwhelming than usual. With Covid numbers going up, the threat of restrictions, the loss of sunlight (ugh daylight savings), and the freezing temperatures already showing up in October (!) winter may look slightly different this year.
Here are some helpful tools to help you through this upcoming winter.
Physical exercise is one of the most beneficial tools you can use to keep the winter blues away. Not only does exercise increase dopamine levels, but it also increases a growth protein called BDNF, which plays a role in generating new brain cells and improves memory, mood, attitude, and focus. (BrainMD.Com)
Invest in deep, meaningful activities
Take time each day to invest in something outside of your everyday routine. Read a good book, learn an instrument or language, create something, or write a letter. Spend time doing something that brings you joy.
Buy a Sun Lamp
Research suggests that daily exposure (around 10 to 20 minutes a day) to direct sunlight can boost vitamin D3 levels, improving your mood. Because of the dreary gray days that come in winter, it might be worth buying a therapy lamp for your home. When shopping for one, make sure to purchase one that's as close as possible to the natural sunlight spectrum and proven to increase vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D supplementation
If natural sunlight or a sun lamp isn't available, definitely look into a vitamin D supplement. Many people experience Vitamin D deficiency during the winter. Not only does this cause an increase in anxiety and/or depression, but the lack of Vitamin D can also weaken your immune system and fatigue. Vitamin D can also be found in foods like fish, mushrooms, yogurt, and eggs.
Connect with a support system
At the beginning of the pandemic, many people turned to technology to connect with friends and loved ones virtually. While this interaction slowed down during the warmer months, the cooling temperatures are an excellent time to start scheduling regular virtual times to reconnect. Spending time with a positive and healthy community boosts bliss hormones like oxytocin. Furthermore, keeping a regular check-in schedule gives you something to look forward to each week and provides the mental and emotional support you need.
Check your nutrition
Not only does the cold weather often lead to comfort food cravings, the holiday season is full of delicious (but usually processed and sugar-packed) foods. These foods tend to lead to increased depression and anxiety, increased irritability, and slower executive function. Do your best to maintain a healthy diet, and you will find the winter blues may be kept at bay.
Grieve changed holiday traditions
Like much of this year, the holiday season may look very different than previous years. Social distancing, travel restrictions, and mask recommendations could affect some of your holiday traditions. Feelings of disappointment and loss are entirely normal and expected. Be sure to have a conversation with your loved ones about expectations. Try to focus on the little things that bring you joy and look for ways to celebrate safely together, even if it is virtually.
One of the best ways to beat the winter blues is to give back within your community. There are multiple people and groups in more need than ever due to the pandemic, as well as several natural disasters this year. Check-in neighbors, donate blood, or give money or supplies to local organizations. Helping others or a cause larger than yourself can create a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
The cold weather forces us to spend more time inside, but try to make the most of this by tapping into play. Adults often forget to just play due to responsibilities, exhaustion, or just lack of imagination. Take time to find a fun activity to engage in. It can be something new that you have meant to enjoy, or it can be something that you haven't done in a while. Make a fort and watch a movie, play board games or cards, pretend you're in a different country for a day (make the food, dress up, listen to the music from that area). Play not only allows us the opportunity to relax and take a break from the constant daily pressures but engaging in these types of activities also improves brain function and increases social, emotional, and physical connections.
Check your screen time.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are incorporating more screen time into our daily routine. Furthermore, screen time tends to increase during the winter because we spend more time indoors. Increased screen time can increase levels of anxiety, depression, suicidality, and an overall deterioration of our physical, mental, and emotional health.
Additionally, this year (more than usual), we also have the added stress of being informed about what is happening around us. The news and social media keep us knowledgeable about the world but often highlight suffering and hostility. This ongoing negative news coverage can significantly affect your mood. Do your best to consume only reliable news sources that report facts, and avoid media sensationalizing emotions.
This year, it is even more imperative that we evaluate and set boundaries with our electronics use. Take time to set expectations in regards to the amount of time spent on screens.
If you're struggling this season, seek help. Sharp Wellness offers individual, couples, family, and group therapy to help support you through these chaotic times. Contact us now.
Owner and Senior Therapist