It’s January. Getting out of bed in the morning is extra challenging and you can hardly remember the last time you saw the sun. Your New Year’s resolutions are piling up faster than the snow outside. The days are longer and colder and your mood reflects it. Welcome to the winter blues.
The ‘winter blues’ is a general term that describes mild changes in mood, alertness, energy, and appetite during the cold, winter months. It is estimated that 25% of the US population experiences the winter blues, especially in the middle and northern regions of the country (Harvard Health Publishing, 2014). It is different from seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder, which is a true medical diagnosis and presents as clinical depression each winter.
Science tells us that many people experience the winter blues largely due to the significant reduction in light or sunshine during the winter months. Our bodies rely on light to release crucial neurotransmitters, like serotonin and melatonin, to carry messages throughout our nervous systems. With less natural daylight, our bodies produce less serotonin, which is responsible for elevating our moods, and thus causes us to feel ‘more down’.
So how can we combat the dreaded winter blues this year? Here are our top four suggestions for improving your mood, and in turn, your overall health.
Even though the sun seems to have betrayed us during the cold, winter months that doesn’t mean we can’t create our own. Thanks to the invention of artificial light, we can use light therapy to ‘trick’ our bodies into producing important neurotransmitters to help us feel our best.
Remember how we said reduced light means reduced happy neurotransmitters like serotonin? Well exercise, like a brisk morning walk or slow-flow yoga session, is one way to encourage your body to produce some more of the good stuff. Time to revive those failed New Year’s resolutions and lace up those sneakers again!
Don’t. Press. Snooze. Without the sun to wake us up in the mornings, our bodies take longer to shake off that melatonin, making it difficult to feel alert. That’s where a regular sleep schedule comes in handy. Prioritize sleep with a set bedtime and wake-up routine (at least 7 hours!) to help you feel your best each morning.
During those cold, winter months we often opt for Netflix on the couch versus other activities or social outings we enjoy during warmer times. Make a point to continue doing activities or hobbies, making plans with friends, or connecting with family members that bring you happiness.
This winter season make sure to try out one (or all!) of these minor lifestyle changes and see if you notice a change in your mood. If you’re looking for tips to help you take care of your mental health all year-around, check out these blog posts:
Still feeling like you can’t shake the winter blues and think it could be something more, like seasonal affective disorder? Make sure to reach out to a licensed professional for help.
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