For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, January can be a bit gloomy. Sunlight is of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it variety. Temperatures are low, the holiday buzz has ended and all that’s left is a burning desire to sleep until April. Chances are, even if you haven’t diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), most of us will feel at least some of winter’s depressive effects, such as oversleeping, difficulty waking up, carb cravings, fatigue and general malaise. The good news is that there are a number of steps you can take to help banish the blues. Here’s where to start:
1) Light ‘em up.
Drench your days with light. Find a sunny spot outdoors and have lunch outside or do an errand or two on foot on your lunch-hour. Force yourself into the light! Supplement your doses of sunshine with full spectrum light bulbs at home and at the office add a full spectrum light bulb to your desk lamp to mimic the mood and immunity-boosting effects of sunshine.
2) But don’t get lit.
As in go easy on the cocktails. You’re not going to drink your way out of winter. Over-imbibing on a regular basis will compromise your immunity and depress mood – which is about the last thing you should be doing during the dark days. A glass of wine now and then is fine. A half bottle a night? Not so much.
3) Get out.
Preferably to a sunny locale. A quick trip to someplace warm and bright can go a long way when it comes to boosting immunity and mood. Some studies suggest that even the simple act of planning a trip can deliver mind/body benefits comparable to actually taking the trip, so why delay joy?
If you can’t swing a weekend in the sun, then stay local and plan day trips. Do something that you wouldn’t normally do or haven’t done in years. Day-trip to an indoor water park or botanical garden for an instant dose of simulated summer. Brave the elements at local ski-hill, build a snowman, go sledding, take a hike through the snow. Whatever you choose to do, the idea is to break out of the sedentary winter mindset. Can’t decide between indoors and out? Then consider this: outdoor activities can burn up to 50% more calories than indoor ones – so get out there!
4) Shake your groove thing.
Keep moving through the winter – don’t let the cold temperatures keep you from staying active. Can’t get out before then sun goes down? Then take a cue from Lady Gaga and “just dance.” Make the living room your dance floor, draw the curtains if you must and crank up your favorite tunes. Loose yourself in the music and dance for 10 minutes every day to boost spirits and keep your body energized.
5) Surprise your senses.
Stuck in a visual rut? Then color your world with a few light, brightly colored pillows, a fresh coat of paint or new bedding in sunny shades. Light, bright colors will reflect sunlight during the day and keep rooms from feeling dreary at night. Think of light and color as a way to guide your eyes and your brain into a sunnier disposition.
6) Make your own happy pill.
In other words, engage in health-supporting, pleasurable activities that help release those sought-after endorphins. Book a spa day, take a sauna at the gym, go for a swim, hang out in a hot tub, get a massage. Anything you can do that makes your body feel good, short of drugs or alcohol, is worth doing.
7) Get up in someone’s face.
And we mean that in the nicest of ways. Get off your Facebook page, quit out of Skype and force yourself to make actual face-to-face dates. Human interaction and community is essential to our mental and spiritual well-being. Last winter, one of my less-outgoing patients learned to work around her shyness by joining a meditation group, which enabled her to quietly enjoy the feeling of community, without needing to speak more than she was comfortable with.
8) Have a happy meal.
Eat in a way that supports your health and prevents spikes and dips in your energy levels. The easiest way to do it is to keep sugar and (bad) fats to a minimum and go easy on the cocktails. Load up your plate with leafy greens, plus high-quality protein and good fats to keep your body on an even keel.
9) Think positive
If you trudge into the season like a character in a Russian novel, the winter is going to feel like a long one. Instead, make an effort to reframe your attitude towards winter. Think of it like a work project that needs attention, planning and creative solutions in order to achieve the goal, rather than an annual “nightmare” that needs to be “survived.” Find joy in days when the mercury rises, learn to love a cloudless sky, witness the clarity of a winter sunset. Remind yourself that there is beauty to be found in winter skies that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
10) Supplement your happiness. In addition to eating well throughout the winter, the addition of a few mood-boosting supplements, such as Vitamin D, Omega-3’s, melatonin and magnesium can also help keep spirits high. Click here for my list of favorite blues-chasers.