Welcome to the dark season of standard time and the winter solstice. If you're navigating winter and the feeling of anxiety and depression that sometimes increases when the trees are bare and the sun goes down way too early, you're not alone. As someone who is cold unless it is 85 degrees outside and the sun stays out until 9:00 at night, I start paying attention from the day of the winter solstice forward, looking for later sunsets and earlier sunrises. I’m always surprised at how quickly I notice it beginning to stay light a little bit longer in the evenings but until this becomes noticeable again, I'm sharing how you can navigate the winter blues and create more positive energy with less depression and anxiety from this point forward.
Depending where you live and what you love to do —New York City to LA, Canada, Europe, —winter might be something you absolutely dread or something you look forward to. I think this is interesting and while I was planning this post, I started wondering about other parts of the world like Scandinavia or Alaska that experience much more darkness than where I live in the middle of America. My thought was that since those places that are further north have less daylight, they would have much higher rates of SAD than say Indiana, but the stats didn’t line up. This is important for you if you struggle with feeling anything from the winter blues to the more extreme form called SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder, a cyclical form of depression caused by changes in the circadian rhythm—a 24-hour cycle that regulates biochemical processes in the body.
For some people, as the hours of sunlight decrease in the fall and winter, their circadian rhythm cycle can become disrupted. The hormone melatonin and the neurotransmitter serotonin may suddenly drop in the winter and cause lethargy, depression, irritability and weight gain. However, this doesn’t hold true for everyone and we know this because of those countries that don’t see as high of rates of anxiety and depression but also have more darkness. So yes, there may be a biological component to feeling more sadness but another incredibly important component of why people feel sad and anxious is their mindset.
In this post, I’m offering tips to tackle the winter blues or SAD from both the mental and physical fronts so you truly can feel better and set yourself up for less anxiety and more energy no matter if you're reading this in December or July.
10 tips for beating the winter blues?
1. Take Vitamin D3.
Vitamin D3 is not actually a vitamin; it’s a steroid hormone manufactured in the body from direct exposure to sunlight. Because sunlight is weak or scarce in some winters, buy a bottle of Vitamin D3 supplements to make up for lost sunlight. There is a strong correlation between vitamin D3 and reduced levels of anxiety whether you are anxious or depressed during the winter or all year long.
2. Let the light that is available in and/or invest in a high quality light therapy sun lamp.
The more natural light the better but when the sunlight isn’t enough, look into light therapy sun lamps. These lamps are often household necessities in areas that experience less daylight during the winters. For example, if you live in New Hampshire or Alberta, in theory, you would be more prone to experiencing SAD than someone who lives in Florida or Southern California. This isn’t to say you can’t experience seasonal mental health shifts in lower latitudes, only that you’d be more likely in higher latitude areas. If you don’t have a light therapy lamp, start by opening your blinds before the sun comes up to let in available light as soon as possible and first thing in the morning. You can also get more sunlight on your skin by heading outside where you’re less shielded by your home. Additionally, you can invest in a high quality sun lamp that you can use throughout the day on and off for 15 minute time intervals on Amazon for anywhere from $20 to $400.
3. Hibernate when necessary.
Finding balance between hunkering down for the day and getting up and out takes intention. Allow yourself a day here and there to snuggle in with a good book or Netflix binge but balance that urge to hibernate with intentionally getting out and around other people. Yes, even if you’re an introvert who likely is freezing. Often, getting up and out the door is the hardest part. This is where mindset comes into managing mental health with SAD. If you are relying on your body and your thoughts to make the first move, you're starting from behind. Shifting your thoughts to the feelings you want to feel then actively choosing to stand up… get dressed…. and head out… even when you still feel cold, tired, depressed, anxious, or any other kind of way takes intention and determination. I help people with this so often - creating the routines and thoughts that allow you to find the feel good feelings before you take a step then celebrating the success so you can continue getting out of the house, making plans, or even changing your mental chatter.
4. Eat warm, nourishing comfort foods.
It’s soup season and other than being easy to prepare and lots of people loving them, foods like bean soup, squash soup and chicken noodle made with bone broth warm you from the inside out and introduce good bacteria back into your gut. Since winter also happens to coincide with being sick, if you’re taking an antibiotic, this is especially important. You can help heal your gut which directly influences your mental health by choosing foods like bone broth, miso, beans and legumes and choosing plain greek yogurt over sour cream to introduce pre and probiotics back into your body after taking an antibiotic and to help you stay healthy. Balancing your gut biome with pre and probiotic foods keeps you from getting sick AND improves mental health.
5. Laugh more.
Whether your thing is hilarious Reels or TikTok videos, slapstick comedy, or having a conversation with your hilarious kid, intentionally seek out things that make you laugh, preferably until you almost pee your pants. Laughing releases endorphins like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which help you feel less stressed out, sad, and anxious. When you laugh you also lower your blood pressure and release the tension that is being stored in your body. The more you laugh, the less cortisol that is stored in your body as well so you’re proactively lowering your stress and anxiety levels at the baseline. As you continue to laugh and choose activities on this list, your stress, anxiety, and depression continue to diminish. Binge on laughter and learn how to laugh at yourself while you’re at it. Life is way too short to take yourself seriously all the time!
6. Layer up and go for walks outside in the cold, fresh air:
This is something that takes that intention I was just talking about for me and maybe it does you as well. Just because it’s cold, it doesn’t mean you and I shouldn’t be outside. As long as you layer up with a woolly hat, a down jacket, and long johns, there is no reason not to go outside for a walk in the sunshine or the snow. Moving your body is powerful medicine in feeling less anxious and depressed and the sunshine hits differently when it makes the snow sparkle. Even as a cold weather hater, I can absolutely say that it is beautiful and once I'm out moving, I'm always happy I chose to venture out. This is also a fantastic time to practice refocusing your thoughts on what you appreciate and enjoy about the day.
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that people who live in places like Norway, Sweden, Finland… places where it is significantly darker for longer stretches of time than here where I live have lower rates of seasonal depression. In fact, Scandinavian countries are in the top 10% of happiest places on the planet! You might be wondering how this can possibly be true when SAD is a real issue and the answer is how they choose to view life. Your mindset is a choice - even when your circadian rhythm changes. Yes, you might feel more tired but how you choose to think about being more tired is a decision. Actively directing your thoughts to what you are grateful for, what you appreciate, and what is going well changes your brain and allows you to cultivate more intentional good feelings. And please remember, this doesn't mean you ignore what isn’t going well or pretend nothing is wrong. It simply means finding what is going well so you can create the energy and thoughts that help you solve for what isn’t.
7. Create a daily sleep schedule where you choose and stick to consistent sleep and awake times.
When it gets dark at 5:00 and doesn’t get light again until 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning, you might be tempted to go to bed extra early. With more darkness, your body may follow the sun up later and down earlier which can be a natural process, but it can also make you more tired and more depressed or anxious. Too much sleep can cause you to be more tired during the day so if you're wondering why you’re so tired when you’re sleeping 12 hours a day, it makes sense. For most adults 7-9 hours is ideal. To solve for oversleeping, a great first step is to choose a bedtime, add 7-9 hours and set an alarm AND an activity you will do as soon as you wake up. Creating routines helps you to keep focused on where you’re headed and out of that spiral of indecision and apathy. If you don’t have one - get one!
8. When Your Body.
As you create your daily routine, be sure you add time to move your body. Whether you decide to walking, you like to workout alone, or in a group, sweating is one of those things that makes a difference and we know it. (Even when we might wish it didn't.) Practicing the mindset habit again, focus your attention on how you feel after a workout instead of the desire to actually workout if you're a beginner. As you experience the physical and mental benefits, the process becomes easier and the results continue to grow as well.
9. Get dressed.
I think this is a lesson well learned during Covid, or at least I know that I saw the power of not sitting around in pajamas and sweats all day. Your posture, how you feel about how you look, even if you think it’s shallow, really does change how you feel about yourself and your ability. Little things like getting dressed, showering, putting on lipstick, make incredible shifts in your mood and energy. Nothing says, i’m too tired like wearing pajamas all day - brains are tricky like this. If you are struggling to take care of your hygiene, I know this can feel like a mountain in the road. As with exercising, it helps to focus on how you feel after the shower, getting dressed or brushing your teeth, not the energy it takes to complete the task. This is a moment in time choice that sets you up for more positive energy and forward motion. You are SO WORTH THE EFFORT AND THE RESULTS!
10. Talk to someone.
Make time for intentional weekly chats with friends, your therapist or your coach. These can be for pleasure, healing or personal growth. Having a set plan on your calendar brings forward motion and purpose to your week. It gives you one more thing to look forward to. If you’ve never talked to a coach you can schedule a call with me by CLICKING HERE . Working with me will help you through the dark and cold of winter and into sunshine and summer with momentum and intention.
How will I know which of these tips will work for me?
Start by picking three that jump out at you. Those are the ones that obviously appeal to you the most—so that’s a great place to start!
Next, schedule a time on your calendar to actually do them starting today or tomorrow!
If you choose to create a sleep routine, set your alarm now.
If you want to start moving your body more, lay out your exercise clothes tonight.
If you want to have soup for dinner - go out today and buy the ingredients.
Once you’ve started, keep doing these things if you enjoy them, then start adding more from your top 10 list until pretty soon winter will be over and you'll be set up for more of what you want in the coming months.
What do I do now?
If you are one of those people prone to the winter blues, anxiety, stress, or just lack of motivation and you want to make sure not to fall into that rut this year, then click HERE now to schedule a time to chat with me about more ways to make your winter months more fun from now forward.