As I mentioned in Part 1, the good news about Seasonal Affective Disorder and the good ole' fashioned winter blues is that both are easily treatable.
This post includes 8 starting points to boost mood in the winter months, but there are many, many more ways to effectively deal with a winter slump (whether it's SAD or not). As expected, I have to preface this post by saying that if you've read this and think you might have SAD, it's vital to talk to a doctor or a therapist for a proper evaluation. (Just to be clear, this post doesn't count as consulting with a professional.)
Ok, now lets get to what to do about the winter blues:
1. Turn the lights on. Does the only glow in the room come from the TV, your phone, or the computer screen? Not good. Light a candle, pull the shades wide open, turn on extra lights in your home. Light therapy is an actual thing and choosing the right light box for you can be surprisingly effective.
2. Exercise. I know it’s annoying to hear this as a suggestion because everyone already knows that exercise is generally helpful, but even just doing 10 mins of exercise in the middle of your living room changes your brain chemistry and can boost your mood. Find some good, upbeat music to work out to and get a two-for one.
3. Color your life. Colors can carry an unexpected but strong impact on appetite, mood, ability to focus, a person’s sense of calm, etc. Ever wonder why the McDonald’s golden arches are warm gold instead of a cool blue? Consider painting a certain wall in your bedroom or a specific space in your home a bright color as a post-Thanksgiving tradition. If you’re not really a DIY person, it’s all good. Get a pretty mug for winter tea, order a color pop via pillow shams for the sofa, place a bright, warm throw in an easily visible place in your home-- there are lots of easy ways to infuse mood-boosting color into your day; this approach is called mood-induction therapy.
4. Get chatty with your doctor. Doctors are generally extremely helpful people who want to help you to feel better, but they’re not mind readers. Talk about how you’re feeling. Ask about how vitamin D and melatonin supplements can impact mood. Both are thought to improve circadian realignment (a major factor in SAD). Your doctor can also discuss other supplement remedies and medications that might help boost your mood, depending on your needs.
5. See a therapist in the winter. If the winter is extra rough for you for whatever reason, get a little extra support. I see a lot of clients who know the winter is not their best season emotionally and come in to see me for three months or so of 'booster therapy,' which always strikes me as so self-aware and positive. I’m especially reminded of #5 in my ten tenets here.
6. Take a walk. I know it’s cold, but get some cute mittens and button up! Even if it’s not sunny outside, you’ll get more light than being inside, and light is one of the biggest factors in the winter blues.
7. Hire a dietitian. Or better yet, hire a dietitian-nutritionist who can work with you to understand the types of foods that you may or may not be eating that actually make it harder for you to be in a good mood.
Craving carbs is actually a symptom of SAD, and that's because carbs cause the body to release more insulin, which promotes amino acid absorption, which in turn helps your body absorb tryptophan (yep, the amino acid in turkey that causes you to go into a happy lull during those big holiday meals). Tryptophan is correlated with healthfully spiking your levels of serotonin, and since you of course read Part 1, you already know that experiencing higher levels of serotonin is a powerful mood booster. Now how would you know all that if you didn't hire a dietitian?!
One caveat, before you go reaching for all the le baguettes you can get your freezing cold hands on, know that eating carbs is a shortcut strategy for boosting mood and also causes blood sugar spikes and crashes (which impact mood).
There are healthier ways to boost serotonin with food, and your dietitian-nutritionist is the person to ask about those ways.
8. Plan a little trip!
Obviously somewhere warm and sunny -- it doesn't have to include a beach or be a really long or expensive trip, maybe just take a long weekend in February and March.
What's one weekend going to do?
Good question, and the answer is, not much. But here's the thing, happiness is experienced in three ways: anticipation, the actual experience, and recall. It's not the 2 or 3 days you spend away that are so healing, it's the fact that you took control, got pro-active, gave yourself something to look forward to and gave yourself something positive to think about upon your return. (I mean, the bright cheerful sun and freedom of walking out in a t-shirt without putting on astronaut-level amounts of outerwear isn't exactly gonna hurt, either.)
The bottom line is this: not everything can be controlled, but most things can be managed.
Your mood during the winter months is one of those manageable things.
And finally, even if you're able to manage your SAD and/or winter blues well, there will naturally be times when you'll want to decompress without engaging in any of the above steps. For those times, I wrote a fun part 3!