To be honest, most of the time I love winter. I get to snuggle up next to the fire, drink warm tea or hot chocolate, and read lots of books or watch my favorite TV shows. Someone at work recently asked me if I knew the word “Hygge” because she just learned about it and immediately thought of me. In case you’re a hygge newbie like I was, it’s a Danish concept that loosely translates to coziness. Think flannel, cable knit, candles, and a fireplace.
However, winter also can cause some blues, or extreme blues. Seasonal Affective Disorder has been extensively researched and can cause a variety of symptoms. We may feel lethargic and tired even after a full night of sleep, or feel especially grumpy and irritated. January can also be especially difficult for a number of reasons. The holidays just ended (“post holiday blues” anyone) or maybe our holidays didn’t turn out quite as planned. We also typically overdo it with treats and alcohol between Thanksgiving and New Year’s and then we throw ourselves into the next detox diet. Our bodies go from one extreme to another.
So how can we fight back and feel good over the next couple months?
Exercise has been studied for a variety of mental health issues. While most of the studies focus on aerobic exercise such as running, walking, biking, or swimming, it’s important to think about the workouts you enjoy. If you love lifting weights or taking a pilates class, that is what you should focus on. If you’ve been motivated by sports in the past, try joining a rec league during the winter. It also adds in a layer of social interaction! Plus, exercise boosts energy, so if you’re biggest complaint is feeling lethargic, this may be one of the best ways to fight off the blues.
Light therapy is extensively studied. While I don’t have any specific experience with this, I do love working next to a window or getting outside each day, even if it’s extremely cold. Now that we have our dog, Sully, daily outdoor excursions are a must. If you’re finding it difficult to get outdoors due to weather, try positioning yourself next to a window to work or talk with your doctor about a light therapy box.
The last thing to consider is sleep. While you may be sleeping more, it’s good to consider if you have good sleep hygiene. Our bodies thrive off of routine, and that includes sleep. If you’re waking up at different times every day or waking up much later on the weekends, this can affect your mood. Try keeping a regular bedtime and wake time, turning off electronics before bed, and creating a soothing night time ritual. I’ll write a post later about my favorite ways to wind down for the night.
Also, the winter blues can feel exaggerated for those with mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. Did you know that almost 20% of the population deals with a mental health issue? That’s 1 in 5. Yet only 36% receive treatment. It’s something that I deal with on a regular basis and I’m an advocate for seeking treatment and finding your self care routine. I’m also hoping to be more vocal about mental health over the next year. I truly believe it’s important for us to destigmatize mental health so others may feel empowered to seek treatment and feel supported. If you’d like to know more about mental health stigma, please visit this link.