Since the winter weather has thus far continued through March, I figured it is not quite too late for me to talk to you guys about the "winter blues". Growing up in Georgia I had never actually experienced a "real" winter. When I moved to Bloomington, Indiana to start college I was shocked when all of a sudden the sky was grey. It seemed permanently grey, for 3-4 months I probably only saw the sun around 7 times!
I started to feel sadder and more unmotivated than usual during these darker months. At that time in my life I had never heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but I quickly learned that it was a pretty common, especially in the Midwest due to the unforgiving fall and winter weather. SAD symptoms mirror those of clinical depression, except they sync up with the seasons. People will typically begin to experience symptoms in the fall as the days get shorter and those same symptoms will begin to improve in the spring when the sun sets later.
Whether you struggle with SAD, clinical depression, or just experience some slight winter blues I put together this list of things you can do or purchase that I have found can significantly increase your happiness during the winter months.
1. Light Therapy
Light therapy is a popular way to combat the winter blues! Obviously, the best source of light therapy would be the sun... so if you happen to have a sunny day try to spend some time outside to expose your skin to Vitamin D.
Another option is artificial light therapy. You can purchase a lamp that essentially mimics natural outdoor light. To purchase one of these search SAD lights, circadian lamps, or happy lights on Google you will find a ton of options to choose from. If you purchase one of these artificial lights make sure to set it at eye level but away from your direct field of vision and do not look directly at it for too long or you risk burning your retinas. Researchers have found that artificial light therapy works best in the mornings, so try to implement its use into your morning routine!
2. Take a Vitamin D Supplement
My first winter in Indiana I became physically ill due to the lack of Vitamin D in my body. Again, growing up in Georgia I was just accustomed to frequent sunshine and never really thought about supplementing Vitamin D. Research has shown that there is a link between Vitamin D deficiency and depression therefore it is super important to maintain your Vitamin D levels even with out the sunshine!
3. Avoid Certain Foods
You should avoid highly refined carbs and sugars because they impact your blood levels and will leave you super cranky. Instead you should eat mood boosting omega-3 fatty acids, good carbs (like whole grains and veggies), proteins and B Vitamins.
4. Productivity, Even on the Weekends
Believe me I know how inviting your couch or bed can look when it is 20 degrees outside... but if you become too content with just sitting around and watching tv it will begin to impact your happiness. So try to accomplish a list of 1 or 2 things a day, I promise you will feel much better sitting on the couch that night knowing you were productive rather than just feeling like a sloth.
I am going to be honest I have only recently begun reading again, but once I did I saw a huge difference in my mental health. Reading allows you to use your brain and feel somewhat productive while staying warm indoors so it is an amazing way to spend your time while stuck inside. My two favorite books from this winter so far are "Girl, Wash Your Face" by Rachel Hollis and "Becoming" by Michelle Obama if you have some time definitely check them out!
6. Keep a Sleep Schedule
This is always important because keeping a good sleep schedule it good for both your body and mind. During the winter when it is cold outside it can be super tempting to sleep in late and/or stay up late but this will only exacerbate the winter blues. Try to go to bed every night within the same hour and wake up within the same hour each morning as well, you will definitely see an improvement in your energy and happiness levels!
7. Exercise is Huge
While I cannot say I actually followed this piece of advice this winter, I wish I had because there are so many benefits. Exercising increases the blood flow to the brain which increases brain health and overall working out frequently is a huge way to decrease the depression symptoms.
Another tip that I did not follow, and honestly it really impacted my happiness this winter. It can be challenging to motivate to leave your home when it is cold outside, but being around others will significantly improve your winter life. Whether it is meeting up with some friends at a movie or dinner or having a wine night, you will be much happier if you socialize instead of isolating yourself.
I hope you were able to learn at least one new thing about decreasing those winter blues. I am so excited for the winter weather to subside soon so I can begin to explore Chicago more, but until then I will be following all of these tips and I hope you will to!