Winter is Coming. Are You Emotionally Prepared? [Survival Checklist Inside]
While winter can be beautiful, a time of rosy cheeks, hot chocolate and snow, it can also bring the blues. Whether you’re suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or winter just seems to bring you down a bit more than usual, there are ways to “winterize” yourself and stay ahead of the downward mood swing that may be on its way.
These tips and tricks can help you prevent the winter doldrums and may even help you stay upbeat during the colder months.
We’ve made a list of 7 things you can start doing right now that have been shown to help keep spirits up during the colder, darker months.
7 Ways to Winterize Yourself
Interact with animals.
If you have a pet, you probably already spend a fair bit of time with them but you may want to start doing it more. You may even want to start designating times that you plan to spend cuddling, playing with or walking your pet.
According to Huffpost, petting your furry friend can actually reduce stress. “Rhythmic petting or grooming can be comforting to your dog or cat, and you. Concentrate on the texture of his soft fur, the warmth he radiates, and his deep breaths. When you connect with your pet, oxytocin, the hormone related to stress and anxiety relief, is released, helping to reduce blood pressure and lower cortisol levels.”
Pets can also ease loneliness and feelings of isolation that often come from being cooped up inside your house during bad weather.
Dogs, in particular, can also get you outdoors. Sun and fresh air are easy ways to elevate your mood, but we’ll get more into that in our next tip.
Don’t have a pet? Check local listings for therapy dog and cat days! These events allow you to interact with cats or dogs, which will surely lift your spirits.
Enjoy the outdoors.
Getting outside to walk Fido is a great way to spend quality time with your pet while also getting outside to enjoy nature but if you don’t have a pet, you should still be planning on getting outside at least a few times a week.
Spending time outdoors can do wonders for your mental well-being. It’s important to get started with this one during the fall before the weather gets a bit too frightful for your taste. Getting into a routine early on will be easier than trying to start once it’s truly frosty out there.
Whenever there’s a ray of sunshine, get outside, even if it’s just for a short walk. Among other things, the sun will boost your vitamin D levels. “Mental health is one of many types of ailments connected to vitamin D,” according to Psychology Today.
According to Real Simple, “we get 80 to 90 percent of [our vitamin D] from the sun.” and SAD is believed to be a result of “shorter days in the winter, and the fact that there is less natural light. The cold can also keep even regular exercisers indoors, reducing their sun exposure. One quick and easy treatment for SAD: more time outside (even when it’s chilly or cloudy).”
Start waking up earlier.
With fewer daylight hours, maximizing that time can be an important winter strategy. Depending on where you live, there are about 10 hours of daylight during the shortest days of winter. Making sure that you’re up for the sunrise will ensure that you get every drop of light available.
According to Bustle, getting up “an hour earlier will make you feel sleepier and ready to go to bed an hour earlier, giving your day a lot less dark, and a lot more light.”
This will help you get a better sleep and make it feel like you’re spending less time in the dark. The combination of extra light and better sleep is sure to improve your mood.
Artificial light can also help.
Dr. Rice, a professor of psychiatric nursing at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, spoke to Everyday Health, “‘The farther north you live, the earlier you can expect symptoms of seasonal affective disorder,’ Dr. Rice notes. ‘One way to prepare is to set your internal clock [earlier] each morning. This is called phase shifting.’ One way to do this is to have 10,000 lux lighting installed in your kitchen area. ‘Starting in late autumn, prepare and eat your breakfast under bright light,’ advises Rice. ‘You should try to do this at about 7 a.m. for about 30 minutes.’”
Another option, that doesn’t involve changing your kitchen lighting is to get a therapy lamp that can move around the house with you depending on where you are spending your time. Evidence has shown that these can be effective used alone or in combination with other therapies, depending on your mental health circumstances.
There are a variety of lamps out there designed for this purpose but, according to the Mayo Clinic, “It’s best to talk with your health care provider about choosing and using a light therapy box. If you’re experiencing both SAD and bipolar disorder, the advisability and timing of using a light box should be carefully reviewed with your doctor. Increasing exposure too fast or using the light box for too long each time may induce manic symptoms if you have bipolar disorder.”
Even if you don’t feel like it, getting in the habit of working out and releasing those endorphins will keep your mood up going into the winter months.
The earlier you start getting a workout into your daily routine, the easier it will be to keep up the habit when your motivation is lower when the weather is cold.
Everyday Health notes that “a recent study, published in The Cochrane Review, that reviewed 30 clinical trials on exercise and depression and concluded that exercise improves symptoms of depression.”
Bustle suggests checking out the various workout apps and videos that make it easy to workout at home, or hit the gym for a hot yoga class which also includes the bonus feature of keeping you warm when it’s freezing outside.
If you can find a way to exercise outside, go for it! This will be hitting two great suggestions on our list to keep yourself feeling good all winter.
Create a list of fun activities for cold weather.
You’ve probably always got a list of fun summer activities you want to accomplish before the end of the summer each year, but have you considered making a list of winter activities that will get you out of your house and keep you having fun?
Keeping yourself busy and social all winter is a great way to stay happy. Like learning new sports? Learn to ski or snowboard. Like baking desserts? Have a bake-off with some friends. Maybe you should even try a winter getaway. Who said road trips were just for summer?
Make sure you track your fun events and record memories from each outing. If you’re having a sad day, look back at all the fun you’ve had so far during the winter. Start planning and setting concrete dates before winter starts.
Boost your vitamin D intake.
We’ve already talked about getting vitamin D from the sun, but the problem is that the closer it gets to winter, the more difficult it is to get enough sunlight. Buying a therapy lamp may be too costly or just not something you’re interested in but there is another option.
Over the winter, your vitamin D levels are sure to go down. Before they get too low, Huffpost recommends taking vitamin D supplements.
“Begin taking 3,000 IU of vitamin D now and continue until May. Vitamin D is especially helpful for the symptoms of depression. […] Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in very few foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. It is also produced endogenously when ultraviolet rays from sunlight strike the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis. We simply cannot get enough of it naturally during the winter, so we must supplement! Supplementing with high levels has been shown to reduce the symptoms of depression.”
Vitamin D isn’t the only nutrient that can have an important impact on your mental health. We’ve got a post on supplementing with magnesium to help beat the winter blues too, check it out here.
Find a hobby.
Though getting more light is an important strategy, you also need ways to cope with the inevitable hours of darkness.
Think about hobbies that you already have that can be worked on in the evenings. Plan to learn at least one new skill that you might find satisfying as well.
Again, it will be easy to keep the hobby going if you start making it a priority before late fall. If your new hobby requires supplies, make sure that you are fully stocked up with clear projects in mind ahead of time.
Do you have any favorite ways of beating the winter blahs? Let us know in the comments!