By Megan Ng
The shorter days and chillier temperatures can significantly affect our mental health. During the winter months, many of us leave, return to the house when it is dark, and go outside less because of the cold. For some of us, the gloomy days may make us feel sluggish and down in the dumps as we adjust to the new weather. However, this adjustment may hit harder for others.
With so many things approaching and changing during this season, it can be difficult for our bodies to maintain balance. There is no single cause for the winter blues (Eastern Washington University Counseling, 2022). Some theories link potential changes in the body’s internal clock or the fluctuation of hormones to the development of winter blues (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d.).
However, there are ways to manage and combat some of those less positive feelings experienced during the colder seasons.
Set a Sleep Schedule
Do not let the winter months and shorter days interfere with your sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time (Soyer, n.d.). The colder months are when we experience the most change in sleep quality and quantity. A regular sleep schedule can give your mind and body a routine to trust and protect against changes in the sleep-wake cycle (Meesters & Gordijn, 2016). Waking up with natural sunlight can also get your body into a natural rhythm. A proper sleep schedule is important because it balances your mood, and cortisol rhythm and impacts hormone production (Eastern Washington University Counseling, 2022).
Nourish for the Season
We all know that consuming a nutritious diet is essential. When it gets colder, what you eat can do a lot in staying physically and mentally healthy and protect you from illness. Some foods and recipes can bring nostalgia and coziness that may make the transition of seasons easier and enjoyable. Getting vitamin D is also more challenging during the colder months. Ensuring adequate vitamin D intake is vital (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d.). Nourishing food with adequate vitamin D can help balance your mood. The colder weather is a great time to break out old recipes or try something comforting.
Get Physical! And Social!
Getting outside is important even though it is colder and wetter. Putting on warm clothes and walking around in the daylight can help you get vitamin D and some movement. Exercise boosts your endorphin production, the “happy” chemical your body naturally produces (Soyer, n.d.). It can be easy to hunker down at home when it gets cold and gloomy. However, being apart from friends and family can make us feel lonelier and more down (Meesters & Gordijn, 2016). Maintaining social interaction is important to uplift our moods and connect to others. Technologies such as FaceTime, Zoom, and Skype can help.
The winter blues happen, but do not let them keep you down! There are numerous ways to practice self-care and use the colder months as an opportunity to enjoy different aspects of life.
- Eastern Washington University Counseling. (2022). Winter Blues/Seasonal Affective Disorder. Eastern Washington University. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://www.ewu.edu/stories/winter-blues-seasonal-affective-disorder/
- Meesters, Y., & Gordijn, M. C. (2016). Seasonal affective disorder, winter type: current insights and treatment options. Psychology research and behavior management, 9, 317–327. https://doi.org/10.2147/PRBM.S114906
- Soyer, H. (n.d.). Winter blues: Managing mental health during Winter & Holiday Season. World Institute on Disability. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://wid.org/winter-blues-managing-mental-health-during-winter-holiday-season/
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Seasonal Affective Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder
Megan Ng is a graduate student of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign