How to Beat the Winter Blues
Where has the time gone? The leaves are falling, animals are preparing for hibernation, and daylight savings time is ending this upcoming Sunday, November 5. While the first day of winter isn’t technically until December 22, things are about to get a whole lot… darker. We’ll “gain” an hour of sleep (that is, until we lose it again in the spring), but in turn lose an hour of daylight.
It's no secret that exposure to sunlight affects your mental health. Science suggests that sunlight triggers release of serotonin, a brain chemical that is tied to creating a long-lasting sense of happiness and calm. In turn, when the seasons change and the days get shorter, many people may find themselves struggling with the “winter blues”, or as science refers to, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression. Studies have shown that around 10 million Americans experience SAD. First and foremost, if you are struggling with your mental health, know that you are not alone, and there is no shame in seeking help. A list of resources can be found here. This blog is intended to list ways to handle the changing of the seasons, but is no substitute for medical advice or treatment. With that being said, here are a few ways you can embrace the darkness that awaits, and (hopefully) offset the winter blues.
Keep Your Vitamin D Intake Up
Ah, good ol’ Vitamin D. This vitamin is linked to the body’s absorption of calcium, bone growth, and hypothesized to impact your mood, which is no surprise given that it can be obtained through sun exposure, something that as mentioned previously, triggers release of serotonin. One way to ensure you’re getting enough Vitamin D is through 10-30 minutes of daily sun exposure. This could entail drinking your morning cup of coffee outside where the sun can lay its rays on you, or bundling up and going for a walk. There is a Norwegian saying that essentially says there are no bad winters, just bad clothes! However, Vitamin D can also be acquired through supplements and foods, such as fatty fish, milk, yogurt, and orange juice so there are options for people who may find themselves stuck indoors for the majority of their day.
Make Movement Part of Your Routine
Exercise is proven to affect your well-being. It releases endorphins in the brain leading to an improvement in mood, and keeps the physical body healthy as well. Research suggests that 30 minutes a day, 3 days a week of aerobic exercise of moderate intensity is enough to gain health benefits like increased strength and energy levels, and reduced blood pressure. However, winter is likely a time where one’s motivation to get out and exercise may be lacking. But remember, some exercise is better than none! Even if you only have time for a 10 minute walk during the day, you’re still better off than if you didn’t get up and move at all. Plus, exercise doesn’t have to be a chore, and can be an excuse to try something new. Consider putting on your favorite music and dancing. You could even channel your inner child and buy a hula hoop! The internet also has a wealth of resources when it comes to exercise routines. Move with Nicole makes some of my favorite low-impact pilates classes that can be done from the comfort of your home. If you’re looking for something more high-intensity, maybe try an at-home boxing workout! The possibilities are endless.
Find Comfort in Food
With the chill that winter brings, this can be a great time to seek solace in the kitchen and try out some new recipes. Foods like soups, curries, and stews will warm you from the inside out, and present an opportunity to incorporate some in-season produce into your diet, such as cauliflower, carrots, potatoes, and squash. Seasonal eating promotes a varied diet, and may give you more vitamins and minerals than you otherwise would have gotten. Here’s a list of some cozy winter recipes to spark inspiration.
Develop a Mindfulness Practice
Practicing mindfulness poses many benefits. It is said to help people manage stress, reduce anxiety and depression, and increase one’s ability to relax and sense of self-esteem. Winter is as good a time as any to develop a mindfulness practice. The darkness brings ample time for resting and recharging, which can be seen in the nature around us, as many plants and animals take this season off and rise again in the spring. With this being said, there are many ways to practice mindfulness and living in the present moment. On a colder day, you might make yourself a warm beverage and designate time to simply sit and enjoy it, allowing time to pass without any other expectations. Gratitude journaling is another way you can set aside time to slow down and focus on life’s positives. The internet also has a myriad of videos on mindful movement and guided meditations. Everyone is different, so do your research and find something that connects to you!
Lean On Your Support System and Community
Winter can be socially isolating for many, so the importance of calling on one’s support system is even greater in these colder months. Surveys have shown that those with emotional support reported having less stress than those without. But what can this look like? Try setting aside time to catch up with family and friends. This can be in-person via coffee or a game night, or virtual as needed! One way I like to stay close to my loved ones is through games like Chess or Words with Friends. Another way to connect with others around you is through community events or volunteering. Plenty of local organizations are constantly on the lookout for volunteers, including the Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation. I’d also recommend visiting libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops to see if there are any local offerings that resonate with you.
In conclusion, we’re about to enter a season of long nights and frigid temperatures, which will impact many in different ways. Remember to show up for yourself and nourish your mind and body! However, it's important to extend grace to yourself and others, knowing that this can be a day-by-day process and will look different for everyone. The best we can do is embrace the darkness, nature’s cue that it is time to slow down.
About the Author
Born and raised in the Truckee Meadows, Dayna studied International Business Marketing at the University of Nevada, Reno. After graduating in 2021, she spent 2 months in India pursuing her passion by studying yoga and becoming a certified instructor. Now, Dayna is excited to join the Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation promoting one of her favorite things, the outdoors! In her free time, Dayna can be found practicing yoga, exploring the world around her, or cozying up in her hammock with a good book.