1. Here Comes The Sun
Significant research in the field of mental health has alerted us to the health benefits of sun simulation throughout the winter months. We Canadian’s have it pretty rough between late October and March, as our days of sunlight become pretty short. I really underestimated the impact that sun exposure had on my mood until a few years ago when I noticed I would come home from work and essentially eat and go to bed. The lack of sunshine stripped me of my motivation and left me unable to achieve anything that provided me with purpose and meaning. I had to find a way to get that positive sunshine even when it is dark so I introduce you to…. drum roll please…. light therapy. I have used light therapy in the past in my work, however had not ventured into the realm of integrating it into my daily routine. For me, mornings are pretty rough when it is pitch black outside and I have to hop out of bed and start my day. It was recently suggested to me to check out a morning body clock and I thought I would give it a try and became instantly obsessed. This type of light therapy mimics the sunrise by progressively getting brighter to wake you gently. When this light is at its full capacity, my room is illuminated and I wake up feeling significantly more motivated! These clocks run about 160$ CAD, but I can tell you it is worth the investment in my opinion. Below is the one I bought from amazon, and I am loving how easy my mornings are now! On top of light simulation, take advantage of sunny days even when it is cold, bundle up and get outside!!
2. Write Yourself a Vacation RX
You may think I am being sarcastic but i’m not. We always think about fun in the sun as just that… fun, however there are significant health benefits to taking a break from lengthy cold seasons and recharging under the sun…. with a margarita, (I don’t actually know if there are health benefits to the margarita part but i’m going to tell myself there is). When speaking with my doctor about my challenges with winter blues, he told me I need to go on a vacation this year and I kind of laughed. I thought he was joking with me, but he looked at me straight faced and said he was serious and if he could write me a prescription for this he would. Not only does the sun provide us with the vitamin D our winter brain and body is craving, but it gives us something planned to look forward to. He told me to write my own prescription for a planned sunny vacation mid winter, and I ‘aint arguing with that! Doctor’s orders!
3. Find a Routine That Works
Cliche I know, but hear me out. Creating a routine, and creating a routine that works during the winter are two totally different things. A routine is useless if it is not maintainable – assess your previous winters and what you have been able to achieve and create your routine progressively. I would love to say I am going to fill my dark nights by going to the gym 5 days a week, however I know last year I really struggled with evening gym sessions because my dark gloomy drive home from work hardly provided me with the motivation to get back in the car and head to the gym. This year, I am determined to try switching to morning workouts, however realistically speaking I know mornings are my worst time of day for motivation so I am hoping to implement this slowly i.e starting by just getting up at the necessary time to make it to the gym, then actually going to the gym once a week at that time, then two, then hopefully working up to 3-4 mornings per week. I decided this because it also provides me with a chance to recover if my low motivation gets the better of me one morning – I can still go at night! If I only plan to go at night, and I don’t get myself out the door, then I skip an entire day and am left with guilt. Obviously if you struggle with your mood in the winter months we want to avoid feelings like these as much as possible! I adjusted my work schedule to start later to give myself a fair shot at a routine that works for me!
Clink the photo to shop this look!
4. Make Plans
If you are a hibernator and hate the cold, you probably shy away from making winter plans. If we don’t plan things in advance and wait for winter motivation to pop up and get us out the door it will likely never happen. Start planning now for things you want to do this winter (both indoor and outdoor) and book times to do it! Home projects, visiting a city you have never been to before, searching for winter festivals or events etc. are all ways you can start to plan a productive winter that will be ready to kick ass when depression starts to creep in.
5. Find a Furry Friend
Not a realistic option for everyone… I guess. I am biased because getting a dog literally saved my life and I will always promote this addition to your life if you live alone or struggle with mood in any way. Regardless of his cuteness and his unwavering affection and love, he gets me moving! I feel an obligation to provide for him and make sure he is well taken care of, and he really doesn’t care if it is -40 outside, he wants to walk! Some of the most refreshing days I have spent have been days where I didn’t want to leave my cozy bed but Dawson was staring at me like “lets go”. Snow pants on and boots in tow, we headed out to the trails and I have yet to find a more beautiful space to breathe than a snow covered trail on a sunny day in January!
Aside from his contribution to my activity level, there is significant research supporting the ability of animals to respond to our emotional needs and to actually cause physiological changes in our body. The presence of animals benefits our physical and mental health in profound ways and can actually provide the brain with a similar response that to those that come from anti-depressant medication. Don’t believe me? Check out this article for more info! I have been lucky enough to train with some amazing clinicians in the field of animal assisted therapies and am a firm believer (and living proof) that the presence of an animal can reduce and even prevent some experiences with depression. So if you have been thinking about getting a dog, DO IT!
not the best image to highlight how motivating he can be, but does show how animals
can make you feel better… i mean look at that face
6. Acknowledge The Sadness
There are going to be days where the sadness, gloom, hopelessness, and lack of motivation take over and it just isn’t a good day. We would be very naive to think that we can fully prevent any experience of sadness that might come our way. Pay attention to it, acknowledge it, and allow yourself a break to just be sad if that’s what you need. Check out my post about bad days to read more about why this is important. The more we acknowledge these bad days, the more we learn about them which allows us to prevent them in the future or reach out for more support if we are unable to shake those awful feelings.
7. Prep Food
Winter=comfort food, but comfort food does not have to equal unhealthy! Every fall I get really excited to spend a day making various soups with my mom and prepare them for freezing. Ever since we started doing this, I found that those busy (or lazy) nights in the winter become so much less stressful when I can reach into the freezer and have a full hearty meal ready to go that is full of whole foods without the preservatives. Don’t allow your nutrition to suffer simply because your motivation is low – prepare in advance. I will be adding a post soon with my favourite healthy freezer meals you can make in advance so stay tuned for that!
8. Write a List
Creating task lists for things you want to accomplish in the winter is a great way to ensure you stay productive. I like to create various lists and separate my tasks by motivation level and social interactions needed to accomplish them. The reason I separate them this way is because even on days where I am not wanting to leave the house and see anyone, have low motivation and energy, and can’t even begin to think about tasks – I already have a list prepared for days just like that! When I am able to feel crappy and still accomplish tasks, it significantly minimizes the amount of days I stay in that type of state. Accomplishing tasks is a really important part of fighting low mood! To get started with this type of mindset, check out my balanced daily planner in my free resource library!
9. Connect With Support
Recognize your vulnerabilities and put supports in place before they become a necessity. If you know you struggle with sadness throughout the winter, get a therapist lined up before hand so they are ready to support you when those months approach. Also, even if you have had support in the past don’t be afraid to reach back out seasonally. Sometimes all it takes is one good conversation with someone who can support you to get you back on track! Don’t wait!
10. Share Your Story
Again referring back to my post on bad days, when we talk about our common difficulties we feel more connected. Don’t go through something like seasonal depression alone when so many other people deal with this! Share your story with people you feel safe and comfortable with and reach out for larger networks of people who share your experience. Write about it, talk about it, but most importantly don’t isolate from everyone else because you think you are the only one experiencing it!