Have you felt a bit down recently? As the daylight is short and the air is cold, many folks find themselves grappling with a familiar foe: the winter blues. According to the American Psychiatric Association, around 5% of adults in the United States experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), while an additional 10-20% may experience milder forms of winter blues. I honestly would suspect this number to be even higher for recent years. Here is a list of my top 5 tips to beat the winter blues:
Get outdoors - it may be cold outside, but if you are dressed warmly and go for an active walk or hike, your body will warm up easily.
Take walks or hikes to local parks and trails, and see views that are unique to winter. Since there are so few leaves on the trees, we can enjoy views only seen during this time of year, such as better views of nearby waterways and mountains.
The fresh air and time in nature works wonders to help us feel more connected with ourselves and our surroundings, and can be quite energizing.
Deliberate cold exposure can also enhance mood, and boost energy levels, among a myriad of other incredible health benefits.
Supplement with Vitamin D - 5,000 IU daily is recommended for several reasons:
Low skin exposure: even if we had lots of sunny days in winter and got outside regularly, our bodies are rarely able to synthesize enough vitamin D naturally to meet our needs because we have so little skin exposed outside during winter. If about 5-10% of our skin is exposed, it would take about 2 hours for a light-skinned person to synthesize a sufficient amount of vitamin D. For people with darker skin, even more time in the sun is needed (more than 2 hours) because higher melanin causes less UV light to be absorbed to create vitamin D3.
Being deficient in vitamin D has been linked to depression and seasonal affective disorder. We are more likely to be deficient in vitamin D during winter because we're spending more time indoors and less in the sun.
Vitamin D deficiency can also weaken the immune system, contributing to colds during winter! Even if you can get out in the sun to get vitamin D, it's still a good idea to take a vitamin D supplement, especially if you've been feeling down or getting sick. You can also get bloodwork done to check your vitamin D levels to see if you're deficient.
Increase your light exposure - besides the benefits of vitamin D from sunlight, there are benefits to simply allowing our eyes to take in more light. This includes using artificial lights indoors in winter to make up for the reduced sunlight.
Using a light therapy lamp can also help us get some of these benefits when our access to natural sunlight is limited.
Move your body! Since we're more likely to be sedentary in winter, our body's blood and lymph can stagnate, leading us to feel sluggish and with little motivation. Getting our bodies moving regularly is crucial, and you don't even need a lot to get your blood and lymph circulating better.
Take a break and do some jumping jacks, or similar movement of both the arms and legs to get the blood and lymph moving.
A quick power walk or going up and down some flights of stairs can also do the trick if you don't have time for a longer exercise session.
Embrace the unique energy of this season
Winter is a time of introspection and hibernation. Instead of longing for Spring, lean into the energy of the season we're in now by taking some time to reflect on what's important to you, what in your life needs more attention now, and how can you bring more balance and wholeness to your life. Take some time to meditate and do some journal-writing.
Spend quality time with friends and loved ones. It's easy to become isolated during this season, and people who are depressed tend to have fewer in-person social interactions. Reach out to someone you want to reconnect with, or try finding a local meetup group to meet new people with similar interests.
It's common for us to feel down sometimes, especially if we've not been getting enough light exposure, time outside, and exercise. With these tips, hopefully you can naturally boost your mood and mental health to get through this season! If all else fails, take heart in knowing that at this point in the year (early February), we've already made it through the darkest weeks of the year, and sunnier days are upon us soon!