Winter is almost here — the days are already getting shorter and everything is definitely getting colder. Along with an unfriendly clime, these winter months can usher in some unwelcome feelings in the guise of the “winter blues.” What are the winter blues, and how can you get your energy back if all you want to do is bundle up and hibernate the season away? We spoke with several experts to find out.
What are the winter blues?
The winter blues are fairly common, Amy Sedgwick, director of clinical operations at Mountainside, a rehabilitation center, tells SheKnows. She explains that the winter blues are usually amplified feelings of stress and/or sadness that many experience around the holiday season, typically starting when daylight saving time ends in the fall.
“Less sunlight, shorter days, and the pressure to remain upbeat during the holiday season can cause people to feel withdrawn and upset, even if they have never been diagnosed with depression,” she says.
It’s important to note that the winter blues, or feeling down or depressed when the days are shorter and the nights are longer, could be a sign of seasonal affective disorder. This is a specific type of depression that is only present during certain parts of the year, and wintertime is the most common season for it to crop up. If you are feeling exceptionally sad and/or hopeless, it may be time to see a doctor or mental health professional. But for your average cases of winter blues, these tips from experts should help get you out of your funk.
A lack of energy often accompanies a general feeling of being down in the dumps. How can you get a little pep back in your step if you just want to cover yourself in blankets and binge Netflix?
Sedgwick says exercise is your best bet for blasting the blues away and improving your energy stores. “Physical movement releases endorphins and has a mood-boosting effect,” she says. “Going ice-skating, participating in winter sports with friends or committing to a gym routine can provide a self-esteem boost and encourage people who are feeling sad or isolated during the winter months to become more active and motivated.”
Get some sun
Dr. Samant Virk, neurologist and founder/CEO of MediSprout, tells SheKnows that more exposure to natural light can boost energy reserves. He suggests opening your shades or curtains ASAP in the morning and sitting by a window as often as you can, especially if you work at a sedentary job.
Avoid crappy foods
Your favorite comfort foods are often loaded with carbs, so Virk says to go for protein-rich foods that won’t cause a crash an hour later instead.
Go for a walk
A quick walk can give you a couple of benefits, Virk says — an easy burst of sunshine and a quick way to get your heart rate up, both of which can improve your energy for the rest of the day.
Connect with others
Psychotherapist Kelly Bos tells SheKnows that while you may be tempted to hole up indoors and stay that way for months, it’s vital to remain social. “Loneliness and isolation are stressful on the body, and keeping socially engaged promotes good mental health,” she explains. Make plans for lunch or a quick shopping trip, and if the weather is too awful to actually venture outdoors, keep your phone handy for text convos or video chats.
Make a plan
If you’re having a hard month or the season has you down, make a concrete plan that you can look forward to, says Bos. Whether it’s an actual vacation or a holiday dinner, planning an event has positive mental health benefits that can keep your energy up. “Positive psychology recognizes that anticipating an event can be more enjoyable than even looking back and remembering the event,” she notes.
The holiday season often goes hand in hand with festive cocktails, but Dr. Prakash Masand, a psychiatrist and founder of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence, tells SheKnows it may be better to abstain or at least stick to just one per event. “Trying to self-medicate with alcohol is a bad idea because alcohol is a downer and will intensify your depression,” he explains.
The winter blues are, well, rather blue, but with the above tips, maybe you can get some of your summertime energy back. And if it seems to be a little more serious, don’t hesitate to seek help. While you boost your energy stores, know that warmer weather is just a few months away (hopefully) and you’ll be back in the warm sunshine before you know it.