Heading into the cooler, darker months can be challenging. The changes in mood some people experience are thought to be caused by changes in our exposure to light. You may notice yourself sleeping too much, having less energy, eating too much, feeling hopeless, withdrawing from social activities, or having a decreased sex drive. Here are some ways to ward off those feelings of sadness or depression:
1. Spend time outdoors: Spending time outdoors in the sunshine works wonders! Being outside is especially helpful within the first two hours of your morning, but can help any time of day. And don’t let cloudy day deter you. Being outside under the clouds is also helpful! Try to be outside for at least 10 minutes a day, preferably without sunglasses. So plan a picnic, go for a bike ride or walk, or eat lunch outside.
2. Exercise: As we all know, exercise releases endorphins, making us happier. Don’t wait for the new year; go ahead and hit the gym! Not a gym person? Making an effort to be active in the winter months is easier in Colorado than other places due to our sunshiny days. Walking is a great option. Or try ice skating, snow shoeing, skiing, or snowboarding.
3. Light Therapy: Light Therapy has been shown to significantly increase mood. Ask your doctor for a light recommendation or search online for a full-spectrum light that is specifically recommended for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder. To use, place the light box on a table at a 45 degree angle from yourself. Do not look directly into the light, but rather just let it reflect onto your face. Start out using it for 15 minutes in the first hour you are awake working up to 30 minutes per morning during the fall and winter months. Some people use them for an additional 10 minutes in the afternoon when they experience a slump in energy.
4. Maintain a regular schedule: Maintaining a regular sleeping and eating schedule helps our brains stay more regulated and our moods more stable. With more hours of darkness in the day, some people find it hard to wake up in the morning. Consider using a Sunrise Simulator, which is a light that mimics the rising sun. Remembering to eat and drink on a regular basis helps maintain blood sugar, which in turn helps stabilize our moods. Because many beverages are cold, staying hydrated in the winter can feel more challenging than in the summer. So make it a habit to sip on some hot tea throughout the day.
5. Time with others: Holing up in the winter can be so tempting, but is not necessarily the best choice. Arrange to spend time with friends and family on a regular basis. Spend time with children, who have such a different outlook on life than adults. Situations we view as arduous, they may view as adventurous. Snow day? Snow forts! Rainy day? Splash in puddles! Gray skies? Oh, ignore them! Let’s read a book!
6. Animals: Don’t discount your animal friends. Time with a furry friend helps in several ways. Taking care of an animal reminds us to take care of ourselves too. Don’t have a pet? Consider adopting one! Cats can make great indoor cuddly companions, and dogs encourage us to get outside every day for at least one walk.
7. Cozy indoor hobbies: Now is the perfect time to pull that old craft bag of unfinished projects out of the back of the closet. Knit socks or crochet a scarf. Decide now to hand make your holiday gifts or decorations. Set a goal of learning a new skill or taking up a new challenge. Have you always wanted to learn to cook or how to play an instrument? This is the time! Learning something new challenges and stimulates your brain, thus making you happier. You can also set up a challenge for yourself such as reading a certain number of books a month.
8. Decorate: While it may seem frivolous to some, decorating a home can create many positive feelings and can help us feel more grounded. When we feel good about our home, we are more inclined to invite people over as well.
9. Travel: If your budget and lifestyle permits, plan and take a trip to someplace warm. The act of planning will bring hope and excitement, and will give something to look forward to. And a long weekend in Mexico in February may be just what the doctor ordered!
10. Medication: It can be helpful for some people to take an antidepressant. If you try some of the things on this list and are still feeling down, speak to your doctor about options.