When winter first begins, it’s exciting. You pull out your favorite coat (hopefully you’ll find some cash from last year in the pocket), you break out the recipe for your favorite soup, and you get excited about celebrating the holidays with family and friends.
But you know what they say about too much of a good thing.
Sure, the first month or so of winter is tolerable, or even enjoyable. But by the time March rolls around and you’re still dealing with ice, snow, and freezing temperatures, (or in Arizona, where I live, sometimes the lack of constant sunshine) winter starts to become a little less appealing and a lot more…depressing.
If that sounds like a sob story written by someone who doesn’t really like winter weather (which I admittedly do not), it might interest you to know that the “winter blues,” and the related Seasonal Affective Disorder, are actual, scientifically-studied phenomena.
Winter blues vs Seasonal Affective Disorder
While some people might use these terms interchangeably, there is an important difference between the two.
Winter blues are fairly mild. As winter stretches on and the world remains duller and colder, it’s perfectly normal for people to feel a little down in the dumps. While no one wants to be in a melancholy mood, no matter the time of year, winter blues are mostly manageable and allow you to live your life as you normally would.
On the other hand, Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD, which, let’s be honest, is the most appropriate acronym ever) is a type of depression. That is to say, it can have a serious negative impact on your day-to-day life and mood.
Winter blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder?
|Winter Blues||Seasonal Affective Disorder|
General, mild tiredness
Low mood may come and go
Often linked to a specific thing or event (missing loved ones around the holidays, increased stress, financial problems, etc.)
Able to continue with daily activities
Pattern of depressed mood in the winter season
Depressed mood that lasts more than two weeks
Poor sleep leads to decreased energy and motivation
More severe fatigue; may not want to leave bed
Interferes with daily functioning
May overeat and/or gain weight
It’s important to note that while both winter blues and SAD are worth working to get over, SAD is a depressive disorder that may require professional care. If you suspect that you are suffering from SAD, you should talk to your healthcare provider about possible treatment options. You don’t have to suffer through deep depression every winter!
How to leave the winter blues behind you
Whether you’re dealing with full-blown Seasonal Affective Disorder or not, it’s worth working through your winter blues so you can leave them behind you and focus on a brighter (and warmer!) future.
Here are a few ideas for helping you to overcome the winter blues.
There is a growing body of research on the effects of exercise on mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. Some studies suggest that for some people suffering with depression, exercise may be as effective as medication when it comes to alleviating symptoms. As little as 10-15 minutes of regular exercise can help, but 30 minutes of exercise, 3 to 5 days a week, can provide significant relief from depression.
Of course, the situation becomes a little trickier in the winter, when the last thing you want to do is go for a jog in the freezing cold. Simply waking up is harder when it’s dark and cold outside, much less dragging yourself to the gym. So how can you stay active even in the “dog days” of winter?
- Find a YouTube channel with workouts you can do from home
- Take quick walks outside in the middle of your work day, when it’s slightly warmer
- Go to the gym in the evenings, when you don’t have to pull yourself out of bed
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible
- Find a workout buddy; the accountability will help you stick with it
- Turn your housework into a housework-out. Pick up the tempo of your cleaning; you’ll be surprised at how it gets your heart pumping!
Human beings are social creatures, but the winter weather can make us want to hibernate in our homes and wait for the warmer days ahead. Giving in to that notion, however, will distance us from other people, and that is not good when it comes to your happiness.
The fact is, close relationships are good for your mental and physical health. And, in a study spanning a 10-year period, subjects with poor relationship quality or lack of relationships were more likely to suffer from depression, and those with the lowest levels of relationship quality had double the risk of depression as those with the highest relationship quality.
What does all that mean? It means that being alone isn’t going to help you get through your winter blues or SAD. You need to socialize with others.
So go to lunch with a friend, host a family dinner, or even just send a text to someone. Any steps you can take toward socialization and connection will help you leave the winter blues behind
Eat well and take supplements
Your diet can impact your mood in a big way. Nourishing your body—not just feeding it—is important to maintaining good mental and physical health.
During the winter months, you should get a good amount of complex carbohydrates, for more sustained energy. You can find these in foods like oats, brown rice, beans, quinoa, sweet potatoes, broccoli, bananas, and berries. Also, be sure to get a good amount of protein and healthy fats, like omega-3s (found in oily fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans).
SAD and the winter blues can lead to overeating, since many people find comfort in certain foods. Try to avoid this by scheduling meal and snack times, and by controlling your portions.
You should also get plenty of vitamin D. The best source of vitamin D is sunlight, but since that can be scarce in the winter months, take a supplement to help tide you over. Also, if you’re struggling to fit in a good amount of omega-3s into your diet (which most people are), consider taking a supplement for that as well. Omega-3s are widely considered to be good for your mood, so you want to make sure you don’t skip them.
Do some spring cleaning
There’s nothing like a clean slate to pull you out of a slump. Towards the end of winter, especially if you’re dealing with the winter blues, nothing sounds more appealing than a bright, clean, fresh, spring-y home. But why wait for spring before you start organizing those closets and decluttering those shelves? Start now!
The powerful thing about spring cleaning is that it’s exhibiting the first three levels of The Egg… hope (in the possibility of a brighter, cleaner future), belief (that you are capable of creating positive change in your life), and action (the actual act of cleaning). Combined, these three elements can help you feel positive, motivated, productive, and ultimately, accomplished.
Sounds like a great remedy for the winter blues, if you ask me.
Weather is one of those things you have absolutely no control over, which can leave you feeling powerless and put you in a victim mindset. Unfortunately, that mindset is only going to feed your winter blues.
If you’re going to leave the blues behind, you’re going to have to stop trying to control the things you can’t control, and instead focus on the things you can.
For example, you can control your thoughts and your reactions. You can choose how to spend your time, who to interact with, or what TV show to binge. The point of this isn’t that there’s a “right” answer to all of these choices, but rather, that there is a choice. Recognizing that you do have control over some things will help you to not feel so helpless when the winter blues strike. And the less helpless you feel, the more likely you’ll be able to do something about it.
Maintaining a positive attitude is tough, especially when you’re unhappy with the world (and the eternal winter) around you. It can be overwhelming, if not impossible, to know how to design your happiness and live a life you love. Coaching can help.
Good coaching can help ignite your hope, build your belief, guide positive action, reveal your true purpose, and lead you to meaning in your life.
Of course, coaching can seem cost prohibitive to many. That’s why Design.org offers free, personalized coaching emails, based on your unique assessment results that let you know where you fit today in The Egg, that can help you zero in on what matters to you and create positive change.
Struggling through the winter blues is hard enough; there’s no need to do it alone. Try coaching to help you work through your melancholy and get to the happiness on the other side.
It’s time to leave the winter blues behind. Take back control over your happiness, focus on keeping your mind and body healthy and strong, and it’ll feel like spring all the time.
Banish the winter blues with free coaching from Design.org
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