Winter can be a tough time for people who deal with depression and anxiety. From decreased sunlight, colder temperatures, and the bleakness of the outdoors, this can make anyone feel a little more down than normal. However, people with specific mental health issues, like anxiety and depression, may react to this time of year with a stronger response than most. Some people struggle with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a kind of depression that is tied to seasonal changes and occurs at the same time yearly, but there are other mental health issues that people must cope with on a daily basis, too. Whether you have SAD or a spectrum of anxiety and depression symptoms, some things can be done to improve your mood, attitude, and overall mental health this time of year.
ProHealth recently spoke with licensed mental health therapist, Latasha Matthews, LPC, CPCS, CPLC, CAMS. Matthews, who is a mental health counselor based in Georgia, is also the author of the book Dumping Ground, which is a bestseller on Amazon. Matthews has worked specifically with patients dealing with issues stemming from anxiety and depression across a wide range of ages and has developed tips to help her patients cope. Check out these five tips from Matthews that can help boost your mood and ease those winter blues:
1. Get Active
Even though we may be in the deepest parts of winter, and it’s cold out, one of the biggest things you can do to feel better faster is exercise! Getting exercise can increase your heart rate, get your blood pumping, and create mood-elevating endorphins naturally in the process. Research on the topic links improvements in mood to exercise, especially in those of us dealing with depression and anxiety, in addition to the overall physical benefits of it. Whether it’s going for a run, hitting those laps in the pool, taking a dance class, or going out for a walk, get your muscles moving, and you’ll feel better in the process.
2. Get some sun
Although your first inclination may be to stay inside during the colder months, one of best things you can do is go out for a brisk walk, get some fresh air, and take in that Vitamin D. Even though the sun’s winter rays aren’t as warm as they are in the summer, the warmth and light does provide you with a lot of benefits, including keeping your sleep-wake cycles on track, breaking the isolation that can occur when it’s cold outside, and energizing you.
“Creating intentional opportunities to get more sun will also minimize some of the sad feelings that exist because it gets dark earlier,” says Matthews. So, bundle up, stay hydrated, and get ready to explore the outdoors.
3. Adhere to healthy habits
Speaking of healthy habits: Having three solid meals a day and a good sleep schedule can go a long way when you are trying to improve your overall mood with anxiety and depression. A poor diet coupled with irregular sleep patterns are two of the most significant factors that contribute to your mood and have a hand in potentially worsening your anxiety and depression symptoms.
To combat a food and sleep slump that can sneak up on you due to colder weather, try to stay on top of what you’re eating–get enough fruits, veggies, fiber, and other aspects of a healthy diet. Additionally, now is the time to practice good sleep hygiene. Feeling rested and getting a full eight hours a night is more important to curb fatigue, mood fluctuations, and irritability. Being able to recharge your batteries makes it easier to cope and create an action plan when depression and anxiety strike.
4. Shift your focus
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When anxiety and depression creep in, especially during the winter months, trying to focus on the task at hand can be extremely difficult. Matthews suggests trying to identify some grounding techniques that can shift your focus away from your current mood, and in the process, help you feel better.
One way that you can change your mood is by focusing on something positive. To help jumpstart this mind exercise, Matthews suggests the following:
- Concentrate on something pleasant you saw today
- Focus on a peaceful place or activity
- Breathe deeply to reduce anxious feelings
- Do something active, such as journaling, coloring, or something of interest to you
5. Have a gratitude log
Putting aside time every day to focus on the things that you are grateful for and make you happy is a great practice. People with depression and anxiety can still feel happiness, and having a gratitude log to keep track of the things that give you joy can inspire you to envision a world beyond your mental illness. Mathews reminds those with anxiety and depression to remember that your mood will likely shift as the new season approaches. In the meantime, developing a gratitude practice can lessen feelings of sadness. Add in an exercise routine, healthy eating habits, and spending quality time with friends and family, and you’re well on your way to managing anxiety and depression, she says.
Note that if your feelings of sadness and anxiety linger, seek out a therapist. Sometimes, you may feel like your doing everything right, but you’re stuck in a rut and nothing seems to be working. When you are down or overwhelmed about your situation, enlisting a mental health professional can be a supportive ear to guide you through the road to recovery. Matthews notes that getting the help you need from a licensed therapist or professional counselor is vital, especially if your symptoms are worsening. “It’s never worth suffering in silence,” she says.
Although the winter blues may have you feeling down, putting a plan in place to help you get through this challenging time of year is going to assist you in the long run. Remember to stick to your sleep, eating, and exercise routines as best you can. Plus, giving yourself the time you need to get outside and spend time with friends and family will help you feel less overwhelmed.
Anni Irish is a writer based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has appeared in various publications including Salon, Broadly, Vice, Men’s Health, and The Village Voice among others.
Exercise for Stress and Anxiety. Anxiety and Depression Association of America website. https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety