By Jane Marsh
Guest Writer for Wake Up World
The change in seasons from hot summer weather to the crisp chill of fall heralds a time of cozy nights in. For many, this is an exciting period filled with warm soup, good books, and sipping on hot cocoa under a fuzzy blanket.
However, not everyone gets this eager. For some, the shift to colder months means less time spent with family and friends, not enough sunlight, and too long stuck indoors. While both experiences are entirely valid, the latter’s emphasis on certain negative aspects of the cold months may hint at an underlying problem.
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) rears its ugly head as the days get shorter and colder.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians 4-6% of the population may experience winter depression in any given year. As many as 10-20% may get mild cases of SAD. Symptoms include fatigue, social isolation, loss of interest in hobbies, weight gain, and irritability, among others.
What Can You Do to Prepare?
If you’re one of the nearly 25% who experience some form of extreme sadness or depression during the colder months, you can begin to alleviate your symptoms by preparing your mental health for winter.
1. Spend Time Outside
The lack of natural light during the winter is typically the trigger for SAD and the winter blues. Sunlight helps control your biological clock, serotonin, vitamin D, and melatonin, among other things. When you don’t get enough, your mood can worsen, your sleep cycle might suffer, and your energy levels could drop.
Cold temperatures don’t have to keep you indoors. Bundle up tight and get outside daily, even for a little bit. Go for a walk with a friend or just stand on your porch while enjoying a hot coffee. The sunshine and fresh air will do you a world of good. Maintain this habit through the fall and winter months to keep negative feelings at bay.
2. Make Your Own Light
Work with your doctor to keep track of your vitamin D levels throughout the winter months. If you’re trying to get outside, but the amount of sunshine you’re getting just isn’t cutting it, you may need to try alternatives.
Your doctor may recommend a vitamin D supplement or light box therapy, depending on the practitioner and the severity of your symptoms. The FDA doesn’t regulate light boxes, so you’ll want to work with your doctor to choose one that’ll be both safe and effective. Ideally, you should select one with at least 10,000 lux of light and one that produces as little UV light as possible.
3. Bring Nature to You
We are naturally inclined to feel at peace in green spaces. However, winter weather in many parts of the world makes it difficult to enjoy this phenomenon. Instead, bring nature inside to you. House plants help purify your air and their color can boost your mood, helping to keep the winter blues away.
Ensure each selection is a good fit for the amount of natural light in the area you want to place it – house plants are great when they’re thriving but a serious downer if you can’t keep them healthy.
4. Embrace Hygge
The Danish idea of hygge may be just what you need to prepare your mental health for winter. There’s no literal translation, but “coziness” gets close. In large part, it means embracing the wonders of each season.
For winter, some hygge-inspired activities might be getting outside to play in the snow, inviting a small group of friends over for a board games and cocoa night, or participating in a soup swap. The hygge lifestyle helps Danes get through long, cold, dark winters. If it works for them, there has to be something to it.
5. Add Pops of Color to Your Home
When winter hits, it seems to zap all the color from the outside world. If your home also suffers from a bad case of the “blahs,” you need to bring some pizazz back into your life.
Try introducing calm, serene colors like blues and greens or cheerful yellows or orange. Start small by adding in throw pillows, blankets, art, or other decor in your desired color palette to test the waters. If you still love it after a while, throw some color onto your walls. Opt for neutral flooring so the rest of the room can shine.
6. Analyze Your Diet
Diets high in processed foods directly correlate with an increased risk of mood disorders like anxiety and depression. To combat the winter blues or SAD, take a hard look at your current eating patterns to see if there’s room for improvement.
Add in whole foods, as close to their natural state as possible. Choose lean meats or plant proteins and get plenty of healthy fats. These lifestyle changes will help you get the necessary vitamins and minerals your body needs to maintain hormonal balance.
7. Find New Ways to Move
If you’re used to outdoor workouts or frequent walks, the onset of colder weather may be a stumbling block. However, you don’t have to give up being active just because Jack Frost came to town.
Invest in yourself with one or two new weatherproof athletic outfits or a gym membership. You may even be surprised at the quality and quantity of free YouTube workouts. Grab a few weights or a kettlebell and work up a sweat. Staying active will drastically improve your symptoms.
8. Reach Out to Loved Ones
When your winter blues or SAD kick into high gear, your first response may be to withdraw socially. This is a typical symptom of depression that isn’t made any easier by the cold and dark weather conditions.
However, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to reach out to your support system. A coffee date with a friend or having dinner with your family can be the balm you need to push through. Your loved ones are only a phone call away.
9. Talk to a Professional
Sometimes self-care and time spent with your family aren’t quite enough to beat your symptoms. If that’s the case, reach out to your doctor or therapist. You may need the help of some medication or therapy.
As with any other mental health problem, seek help immediately if you experience suicidal thoughts or feel your life is worthless. Mental health professionals can get you the support you need to make it through this tough time.
10. Declutter Your Space
One last thing to help you prep for the season is to thoroughly declutter your possessions. Owning less means fewer things to clean and less clutter taking up your space. You’ll be able to breathe a bit easier and your donations could help someone else.
A Little Prep Can Make a Difference
Going into the winter season with a few things knocked off your to-do list and a plan for success will make the transition much more bearable. If you experience SAD or winter depression, you’ll likely still feel symptoms, but your overall mood should improve using these tips.
About the author:
Jane is the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co where she shares practical tips on how to live a greener life.