Do you start to feel sluggish and irritable as the cold weather rolls in? Does your sleep schedule spiral out of control as the days grow shorter? In the United States, 4-6 percent of people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that strikes during the fall and winter, and many more experience a milder version of seasonal depression. If you’re suffering from the winter blues, it’s easy to feel lost and hopeless, but fear not! Here are some strategies to help you kick your winter blues to the curb.
Brighten Things Up
Sunlight helps your body produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation. If you find yourself feeling down during the dark winter months, talk to your doctor or therapist about the possibility of starting light therapy. Light boxes mimic the light of the sun to help boost your serotonin levels. If you struggle to get out of bed on dark mornings, a dawn-simulating alarm clock is another great way to brighten your day. These special clocks ease you out of bed with gradually increasing light.
Get Up and Move
Regular exercise is another great serotonin-boosting strategy. Pick whatever exercise suits your fancy, as long as it gets you moving. Challenge yourself to get outside and soak in some sunlight while you exercise! Make a habit of going for walks or runs, even if it’s cold out. You can also take advantage of the winter weather and try ice skating, skiing or snowshoeing.
Treat Yourself to Chocolate
If you find yourself craving chocolate this winter, treat yourself! Tryptophan, an amino acid found in chocolate, is involved in serotonin production. Eating chocolate — especially dark chocolate — is a great way to increase your serotonin. Chocolate isn’t the only serotonin-boosting food out there, though. Nuts, salmon, dairy and turkey are also excellent sources of tryptophan. Including more of these in your diet can really improve your mood. Sugar can also boost serotonin, but beware. The serotonin spike from sugary foods is short-lived and may leave you feeling drained a few hours later. If you’re craving sweets, try a handful of trail mix with nuts and dark chocolate. Cheese and crackers with apple slices are another great snack if you need a quick mood boost.
Stick to Your Routine
The change in seasons can really throw a wrench in your routine, especially if you’re prone to seasonal depression. Taking control of your routine is a powerful tool for beating the blues. Focus on fixing your meal and sleep schedules first. Eating and sleeping regularly can do wonders for your mood. Be sure to stick to your schedule even on days off — it’s tempting to sleep in on the weekend, but the change in routine can leave you feeling sluggish. Don’t forget to schedule time for fun and relaxation! Setting aside time for hobbies, journaling and hanging out with friends can really help get your life back in order.
It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re feeling down. It’s important to set specific, realistic goals to keep yourself on track. It’s okay to start small. When you’re depressed, tasks that used to be easy may suddenly seem daunting. Tackle big activities one bit at a time. If cleaning the house seems overwhelming, break it into smaller tasks such as organizing your desk and vacuuming the living room. Don’t limit your goal-setting to work and chores, though. Be sure to include some recreation and self-care goals, such as seeing your friends once a week or meditating before bed every night. With a healthy routine, clear goals and some serotonin-boosting tricks in your back pocket, the winter blues won’t stand a chance. If you’re still feeling down after you integrate these strategies into your life, work with your doctor or therapist to develop a treatment plan for your seasonal depression.