15 Ways to Beat SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) This Winter

*obligatory disclaimer that I am not a doctor or licensed psychologist, and the following information is based on personal experience and research

If you dread winter because you associate it with a particularly low mood, you might be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder, or, SAD.

Most people in Northern climates experience some version of the winter blues. This article explains the difference between the a case of the blues and SAD. SAD is more severe, and your symptoms may be physical- whether it’s changes in your sleeping and eating habits, or feelings of hopelessness.

The winter blues, on the other hand, might drive you to spend more nights on the couch, and perhaps be a little grumpy by the weather. I’ve experienced both, and while I’ve never had severe forms of SAD, I do have to make sure I keep up my healthy habits to thrive in the darker winter months.

Growing up in Chicago, and more recently spending six years of living in the rather soggy Pacific Northwest, I can safely say I’ve learned some good tricks to help relieve symptoms of SAD, and the winter blues.

It’s important to note that if your symptoms are severe, you should get in touch with a doctor or mental health professional, or even a crisis line. I love BetterHelp for affordable, easy, virtual therapy.

Here’s 15 Ways to Beat SAD this Winter:

  1. Sobriety– I understand a glass of wine or two seems like the protocol when you’re feeling down, but it’s a quick fix that usually worsens depressive symptoms in the long term. There’s no reason you can’t enjoy alcohol in moderation, but booze is definitely NOT a cure for feeling blue, and will make you feel worse in the long run. Enjoy your booze, but don’t fool yourself into thinking it will help with the blues.
  2. AM Exercise– This one makes a big difference for me. When I exercise in the morning, as hard as it may be, it gives me energy throughout the day, and it sets me up for productivity (since I’ve already DONE something productive, I might as well keep it going.) The best part is, you get it out of the way! It’s not looming over you. You can focus on your work, and having fun and relaxing. Set your workout clothes next to your bed so you can make it easier for yourself. Prep your coffee the night before.
  3. Sun bathe– If it’s sunny outside, RUN OUTSIDE LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT AND SOAK IT UP. Bundle up and go for a walk. Sit in sun spots in your house. Go for a drive. Be like a cat and sprawl out on the carpet in a sun patch. We need sun. Bask in it.
  4. Gratitude– This is one I’ve been using especially when I get angry and irritable, which happens more in winter, and is likely related to the winter blues. Every time you want to get angry about life or at someone in particular, count your blessings. It’s impossible to be angry and grateful at the same time. Works like a charm.
  5. Nutrition– I take a multivitamin, vitamin D, a probiotic, and a fish oil supplement daily. I make sure to eat mostly whole foods, and lots of fruits and veggies. Oftentimes, low energy and moods can be related to nutrient deficiencies, so I like to cover my bases with supplements as a kind of insurance. I swear it helps.
  6. Plan something to look forward to– If you can manage a sunny weekend or trip away, absolutely do it. There’s always the desert, Southern California, Florida, and Mexico, to name a few. You can even add easy day trip cities to your weather app so you can check and see if their weather is better, and go take a day trip somewhere sunnier.
  7. Magnesium– I had a chiropractor recommend a Magnesium supplement to me when I told her I experienced low mood in the winters, and apparently a lot of people are deficient in it.. I liked it so much I’ve been using it for five years. Natural Vitality makes a product called Calm, a powder that I mix with water and drink a couple of hours before bed. It helps you relax and it’s also an excellent digestive aid.
  8. Rest– Don’t guzzle energy drinks to get through your day. Take cat naps. Prioritize a good night sleep. Do things that recharge you. Winter is a slower time, and there’s a reason our bodies slow down a little. It’s hibernation season. Don’t give up and spend the whole day in bed (not too often, anyways) just rest!
  9. Meditate — Conscious breath, slowing down, and quieting our mind is crucial year round, but especially in quieting that mean inner monologue so many of us struggle with, especially when our moods are low. I rejected meditation for years, until I realized A) how easy it was and B) that it made me more focused, more calm, and more level-headed.
  10. Remind yourself you control your thoughts — When you notice your brain slipping, or saying mean things about you or others, just notice it, and decide to change the thought. Tell yourself things that feel good instead. Most of us struggle with a nasty inner monologue, and this can get worse in the winter months, but that inner monologue is ours to edit. When you hear your inner critic speaking unkindly, find a way to reframe it. For example, if your thoughts are telling you you’re unlovable, remind yourself what you love about yourself, and think of examples in your life that prove you are lovable. Your thoughts aren’t facts. They’re just there, and you have the power to change them.
  11. Connect — Your instinct may to to isolate yourself, but challenge yourself to call or text a friend, or meet up for a walk or a coffee. Stay in touch with your friends and family. Make them holiday cards, or write them “Thinking of You” letters. Have FaceTime dates. Make your loved ones a priority, even if it’s easier not to.
  12. Take action, however small- Sitting around thinking about how sad you are doesn’t do anything to move past it. Take action, whether it’s just working out, showering, doing your chores, or spending some time on a creative hobby. Notice how you feel afterwards, and incorporate more action into your days.
  13. Make your bed– Every morning. It sets the tone for the day, gives you a little momentum in the direction of productivity, and will help you keep the rest of your space and mind clean as well.
  14. Get outside — I know it’s often frigid, but getting outside, and getting fresh oxygen will help invigorate you. Plus, you can even catch some vitamin D when it’s overcast, and you’ll get exercise, too.
  15. Keep a routine– set an alarm, meditate, say what you’re grateful for, exercise, work, do your chores, chill. Having a routine keeps us from going on autopilot, and actually gives our brain more energy to be creative since we already have a daily schedule, and don’t need to waste energy figuring out what to do each moment. Having a routine also helps you incorporate healthy habits every day, and helps you stick to them.

So there you have it! These are my top tips I’ve learned after living in Chicago and the Pacific Northwest. Winter doesn’t have to be bleak. And as always, if you’re experiencing debilitating symptoms, please reach out to a mental health professional.

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