Winter is generally regarded as a “season of contempt.” It is often blamed for gloomy moods that range from “the blues” to a bonafide mental disorder called Seasonal Affective Disorder (known as S.A.D.) that affects up to nearly 10 per cent of the U.S. population or over 20 million people (increasingly predominant as you go further north). Reasons for mild seasonal blues are blamed on coping with the cold and inclement weather, feeling “cooped up”, being too sedentary, feeling isolated, as well as suffering from a lack of light. In fact, in the case of the more severe Seasonal Affective Disorder, the treatment of choice is artificial light therapy, along with treatment with anti-depressants.
This winter does not have to be doom and gloom, if you prepare yourself with a winter survival mindset. Here are some tips to beat the winter blues:
- Gloomy Days Do Not Equal Gloomy Thoughts. Dark, cold days do not make us feel depressed or stressed. Those thoughts come from inside our heads and we ourselves determine how we perceive things on the outside. It is our “take” on events outside of ourselves that can mess us up!
- Don’t Wish It Away – Instead of thinking that you won’t be really happy until spring breaks again, use this time wisely to develop a stress resilient personality that builds on a blue mood to help you become more introspective, insightful and aware of yourself. Emerge from the winter a more highly developed “YOU!” Use the extra time indoors to get some reading done, learn to make a new recipe, or get some other indoor task done that you have been avoiding.
- Learn From Your Moods – Blue moods have something to teach you if you surrender to them, examine them, and do not regard the moods as Boogie Men. Consider a blue mood as a light on your dashboard when the gas it low – it is a warning that something needs attention. What is it? Famous author, Elie Wiesel, attributes his ability to get through the dark days of being in a Nazi Concentration Camp to his love of learning, and he claims this focus on learning every day got him through those horrendous times and allowed him to have an attitude of survival.
- Be Active – Even if it is icy and snowy outside, it does not mean you need to be a coach potato. Find ways to keep active throughout the winter. Work out at a home or local gym, join an indoor sports league such as tennis, yoga or basketball, or find outdoor sports that you can do in the snow such as skiing, skating, snow shoeing, or just plain old walking. The more active you are in the winter, the less weight you will gain, and the better you will feel for staying “fit.”
- Be Careful What You Eat! – One reason people feel ‘down’ in the winter is that they do not feel “fit” and their clothes get tighter due to a more sedentary lifestyle, as well as eating in excess during the holiday season, or from just plain old “emotional eating” due to boredom. Unwanted weight gain affects self- concept and self-esteem, and contributes to depression. Countless studies have shown that happiness correlates to a positive body image.
- Be Careful What You Drink! – It is all too common for people who feel low and bored to use alcohol to drink their troubles away. Paradoxically, alcohol is a depressant, and the more you drink the more depressed you get overall even though the short term effects of alcohol might be viewed as pleasantly numbing. Avoid binge drinking above all, and misuse of other chemical substances. People who have a hard time controlling their alcohol intake often end up seeking out alcohol rehab
- Seek Support! – It might be more of an effort to connect with others, but making efforts to get together with friends and family can ward off the sense of isolation that often comes with the winter doldrums. The cozy warmth of relationships can keep your heart glowing and provide emotional sustenance during the winter months.
- Seek the Light! – You don’t have to have Seasonal Affective Disorder to benefit from making sure you get enough light in your life. Bundle up in warm clothes and commit yourself to going out for even a short time every day to get some natural light and the Vitamin D that you get from sunlight. This will likely boost your mood and you won’t get that cabin fever!
If you follow these tips, you will spring into Spring with a lighter step and healthier mood!
To help you cope during the holidays, how about trying to write out some “coping cards?” Take some small file cards and on one side of a card write down any negative thought relating to your holiday stress, and on the other side of the card write a rational and positive response to serve as a reminder when you are stressed. For example, a negative thought might be, “My mother in law is so rude – I can’t stand being around her!” The other side of the card can reframe that notion by writing, “I wish my mother in law was healthier and I have a hard time being around her but will see this as a challenge to grow and become more accepting of others who are not like me.” After you write your cards, you might want to put clear adhesive contact paper to preserve them and then punch a hole in one corner, putting them all on a ring to bind them. Carry them around in your purse or back pocket to keep yourself grounded!
Note: Coping cards are suggested by Judith Beck, Ph.D. at the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research