Jillian Torabpour, MA, mental health provider at Fuller Living, on the topic of Winter and Mental HealthW
Short cold days. Long cold nights. Your bed is warmer than your house in the morning. No chance to see the sun in the evening after work. Longer commutes, de-icing sidewalks, walking pets in the dark, navigating ice and snow on the roadways….the list goes on. Winter in Minnesota rolls in behind summer, with only a brief pause for a few weeks of milder weather for fall, and before you know it, mornings are spent scraping our cars off and watching for school closures.
It’s well known that moods tend to shift downward with the turning back of the clock at daylight savings time. Grey skies bring grey moods and the remembering of winters past brings anxiety for the long months ahead. Often times, during the winter months, people tend to notice increased irritability, a general feeling of unhappiness, fatigue, depressed mood, low energy, changes in sleeping and/or eating habits, isolation, increased anxiety, and other symptoms. Some people feel these mildly and talk about them in terms of having the “winter blues” and others may experience significant difficulties in their daily functioning and battle major depressive disorder, with a seasonal pattern (this replaces what many people still refer to as seasonal affective disorder or seasonal depression).
I want to caveat the rest of this post by saying that if you are one of the people just described, and you are battling more than just the “winter blues” you should see your doctor, consider seeing a counselor, and consider, with your treatment team, what options will work best for you to conquer the symptoms your experiencing. I say conquer, because I believe you can conquer the hard things. Even in the long cold winter.
What if there are some ways to conquer winter beyond just putting on our bravest face and waiting for the first signs of spring? What if there are some choices we can make to combat those blue and grey feelings that roll in with the first big cold front and seem to pile higher with every snowfall? I believe that whether you’re someone trying to defeat the “winter blues” or someone battling a deeper depression, the following things can help you conquer some of those symptoms listed above.
Challenge yourself to talk and think differently about winter- Have some responses ready for when people try to engage you in complaining about the winter/weather/cold/snow (ex, “It is a hard adjustment, but I’m glad to have time to cozy up and enjoy my home a little more.” Or, “It’s an adjustment for sure, but I love how clean and pretty fresh snow makes the city look.” Or, “I’m still adjusting too. Let’s schedule a game night to keep ourselves busy!”). In addition, have a list handy of things you enjoy about winter and things you’re thankful for despite the season to remind yourself of when you catch yourself thinking negatively about the weather/season. It may sound cliché, but there really is power in positive thinking.
Regular exercise- Exercise releases endorphins that elevate mood. Regular exercise can help combat feelings of sadness, fatigue, and low energy.
Planned activities- People tend to isolate themselves more in the winter months for one reason or another. It’s a hassle to get bundled up to go out, driving is riskier, illnesses, low energy/mood causes us to want to stay in… Planning something to look forward to at least twice per month can help getting over these hurdle a little easier and prevent isolation. Some ideas: game/movie night with friends, ice skating or other winter sports, go to a show/concert/play/other art performance, visit a museum, plan a weekend (or longer) getaway if possible…
Light therapy- Less sunlight means less serotonin, which can contribute to depressed mood. More darkness means more melatonin, which can contribute to low energy, fatigue, and sleep changes. Light therapy mimics natural sunlight and can help the body combat the changes brought on by winter. There are many options for light boxes/therapy lights and you should talk with you’re doctor/provider to decide which option/regimen will work best for you. More info: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/light-therapy/about/pac-20384604
Vitamin D- Vitamin D has been linked to playing a key role in mood. Try to make the most of the time you have access to natural sunlight that you can. Maybe a walk during your lunch break, or getting outside as much as possible on your days off. But other options to increase your vitamin D could be to increase your intake of foods high in vitamin D or adding a supplement.
Volunteer- Giving your time and energy to a cause you care about can lift your spirits, increase social connectedness, decrease isolation, and help others along the way. Check out this article on volunteering and health: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/volunteering-may-be-good-for-body-and-mind-201306266428
Seek mental health treatment- Sometimes we need a little more help to get through certain seasons, figuratively and literally. If you are really struggling, reach out. You aren’t alone. And it will warm up again.
Are you in need of mental health support through this winter season? Fuller Living is here to serve you!