The winter snow only glistens for so long before it turns into muddy slush. Sure, the winter months are a magical time of the year for some, but for others, the cold can add stress, anxiety, and depression. The winter blues are very real, and it’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
8 Ways to Beat Your Mid-Winter Slump
This type of seasonal depression affects 10 million Americans with women four times more likely to be diagnosed than men. SAD is usually more common for those who live in areas with seasonal variation, like the Midwest, since the winter days grow short and cold. Let’s take a closer look at SAD and learn ways to combat it during a mid-winter slump.
More about SAD
It’s normal to feel a little down during the winter months. I mean, freezing cold temperatures aren’t everyone’s jam. But SAD goes beyond a general feeling of sadness. According to Hopkins Medicine, seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that happens during certain seasons of the year. It’s thought that less sunlight and shorter days are linked to a chemical change in the brain and could be part of the cause of SAD.
In most cases, SAD occurs during the winter months and ends once summer hits. However, some people have the opposite pattern where their symptoms start to show in the spring or summer. Either way, symptoms can be mild at first and progress with the season and differ for everyone. Some common symptoms of SAD are:
- Constantly feeling sad (no pun intended)
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Difficulty concentrating
- Low energy
- Fluctuations in appetite or weight
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
Of course, visiting your doctor is always the best course of action if you’re experiencing SAD symptoms. In the meantime, you can also experiment with these tips and tricks to try and find some relief.
Ways to combat SAD
No. 1: Up your vitamin D dosage
When you’re feeling down, it can help to add some vitamin D into your system. Don’t take our word for it—this study found that taking vitamin D supplements improved symptoms of seasonal depression.
But where do I get vitamin D? Obviously, the ideal source of vitamin D comes from the sunlight, but that’s difficult to come by on short winter days. So, another great natural source of vitamin D comes from fish such as trout, salmon, and tuna. You can also find vitamin D in other animal-based foods like beef, pork, chicken, turkey, and eggs.
If you’re a vegan, vegetarian, or just not into eating meat, there are other ways to get vitamin D, too, don’t you worry. In fact, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals typically have added vitamin D, and so do some brands of orange juice, yogurt, and margarine.
Another popular way to treat your body to vitamin D is through dietary supplements. No, you don’t need a doctor’s prescription for these—you can find these in the vitamin section at any ole pharmacy or grocery store.
No. 2: Make it bright
Sunlight naturally gives us this inner warmth and goodness, but during the winter months, we have less daylight, less sun, and therefore less natural vitamin D. Good news—you can create your own sunlight inside the comfort of your own home!
Here’s how: Get a light box or vitamin D lamp and hang out by it for at least 30 minutes a day. Pro tip: Set it up at your desk at work or turn it on while you’re reading in bed at night for convenient daily exposure. Or if you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, a dawn simulator could be helpful because it mimics the patterns of a sunrise with indoor lighting. Who wouldn’t love their own personal sunrise each day?
No. 3: Less sweets, more greens
When we’re feeling moody or down, it can be easy to turn to comfort foods to make us feel better. While my personal favorite, chocolate, has been shown to improve our moods, things like sugar, candy and carbs only provide temporary relief.
So, when you’re feeling a little low, it’s best to stick to a healthy, well-balanced diet, so you don’t end up lethargic and feel worse later. Like anything, this is easier said than done so make sure your diet goal is attainable and realistic. You don’t have to eat a spinach and kale salad for breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day, but it wouldn’t hurt to sub those fries for veggies every now and then.
No. 4: Limit the lattes
Just like certain foods, caffeine can give you a temporary burst of energy. It is, after all, a natural stimulant and one of America’s most popular beverages. Did you know that there are over 600 million cups of coffee enjoyed in the U.S. each day? Wowza.
But when it's all said and done, caffeine will make your blood sugar levels drop, dehydrate you, and make you more sluggish. Drinking too much can produce uncomfortable side effects like restlessness, rapid heartbeat, and insomnia, which doesn’t sound fun for anyone.
Instead of automatically going to the coffee pot, try an herbal tea or sparkling water. Or heck, just gulp down that old-fashioned H2O.
Hot take: Drinking water is underrated. We all know it’s important to stay hydrated, but did you know that water:
- Helps you maintain a normal body temperature
- Cushions your joints
- Protects your spinal cord and other sensitive tissues
What you put in your body matters, so treat it to beverages that boost your body’s health.
No. 5: Get up and at ‘em
Fun fact: Exercise reduces stress levels. It seems counterintuitive because after a long, hard, and stressful day, many of us want to melt into the couch with a tub of our favorite ice cream, not sweat it out from every pore in our bodies.
Instead of resorting to your usual comfort routine, find your inner motivation to get up and get active. Science says physical activity can help improve mood and reduce anxiety. Even something like a quick walk around the block or a few steps on a treadmill can improve symptoms of depression. Why?
Because when you get up and get moving, your brain releases feel-good endorphins that give you a little boost in mood and energy. Plus, exercise also spurs the release of proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors, which cause nerve cells to grow and form new connections.
“In people who are depressed, neuroscientists have noticed that the hippocampus in the brain—the region that helps regulate mood—is smaller,” said Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving nerve cell connections, which helps relieve depression.”
Let’s be honest, the worst part about working out is getting started, and there’s a reason for that. People who experience SAD can struggle with disturbed sleep, reduced energy, appetite changes, body aches, and an increased pain perception, all of which can result in a lack of motivation to get moving. Start slowly with five minutes each day of an activity that you enjoy. Soon, five minutes will naturally become ten, then fifteen, and before you know it, you’ve formed a fun new habit! Way to go, you!
No. 6: Get yourself outta bed
I don’t know about you, but one of the hardest parts of the day can be simply getting up. Sometimes peeling yourself from the comfort of your bed can be a challenge. But once you’ve done it, pat yourself on the back, and then make your bed.
Seriously? Seriously. Try to make your bed every morning. It seems like a trivial, pointless chore, but it will help you feel accomplished and prevent you from diving back into it, no matter how badly you may want to. Plus, your mom will be so proud!
But it’s not just about keeping a tidy bedroom (or making Mom and Dad happy). Making your bed gives you a sense of daily accomplishment and studies show it can even help you sleep at night and reduce stress levels. Who knew?
Like working out, getting started is the toughest part. To successfully add bed-making into your morning, make it a daily habit so the act eventually becomes reflexive, like saying “Bless you” after someone sneezes. Here are some tips on how to integrate bed-making into your life:
- Link bed-making to something you already do. For example, if you always brush your teeth in the morning, make it a habit to follow that activity by making your bed.
- Just do it. Once you get up and out of bed, don’t overthink it and just do it. If you put it off thinking you’ll come back to it later, you could easily forget.
- Set a reminder on your phone. Technology is so smart nowadays that it can audibly give you daily reminders and it’s nice to take advantage. So, if you tend to forget where you put your wallet or car keys, a reminder to make your bed could be a helpful tool to get the job done.
- Keep yourself accountable. If you live and share a bed with a partner, keep each other accountable. Maybe you switch off each morning or try to make the bed together every day. Whatever strategy works for you, hold each other to it.
No. 7: Offer a helping hand
There’s a Chinese saying that goes: “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”
It feels good to help others when you can. Not only do we think so, but so does science! Studies show that giving back to your community can boost your happiness, health, and sense of wellbeing. Not only that, but altruism can reduce stress, combat depression, keep you mentally stimulated, and provide a sense of purpose.
The beauty of helping others is that comes in many different forms. One way to give back is to volunteer your time to help others, whether that means serving food at a homeless shelter or helping to build a home for a family in need.
If you’re running short on time, consider donating to nonprofit organizations. But don’t donate your hard-earned cash to any organization. Do your research ahead of time and align with a nonprofit that’s passionate about something you are.
Michael Norton, Harvard scientist, said, “Giving to a cause that specifies what they’re going to do with your money leads to more happiness than giving to an umbrella cause where you’re not so sure where your money is going.”
If you’re feeling low, make yourself feel better by helping someone else. It doesn’t have to be a big fundraiser event or impressive monetary donation, but rather a door held open or dollar in the tip jar. Give what you can when you can and feel good while you do it.
No. 8: Phone a friend
One of the worst parts about SAD is the feelings of isolation and loneliness that come with it. And you’re not alone—roughly five percent of the American population struggle with seasonal affective disorder.
When you’re not feeling your best, find the strength to reach out and phone a friend for support. While this can be quite hard, it’s well worth the few moments of uncomfortable feels. Here are a few tips on how to ask for support when you’re feeling down:
- Resist stigmatizing yourself. There’s a heavy stigma surrounding mental health in our society and it’s important not to fall into it. SAD doesn’t define you if you don’t give it the power to.
- Reach out to who feels comfy. Sometimes talking to loved ones is the perfect pleasure potion. But for others, that’s talking to a third-party person like a therapist. The important thing is not who you reach out to, but that you do, in fact, reach out.
- Phone a friend on your own time. Don’t rush into asking for help. Instead, give yourself time to process and reach out to someone on your own time when it feels right for you.
It’s brave to admit when you’re not okay. Find someone you feel comfortable sharing with and reach out to them when you yourself need a helping hand.
At the end of the (short sunlit) day, do what makes you feel better, and take care of yourself first to combat your mid-winter slump. This season is full of wonderful things for you to experience and enjoy, so make the most of winter and all it has to offer.