Winter Wellness: Self-Care Strategies for a Brighter Season

Garth Laidlaw

Winter blues, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is a common phenomenon, especially in regions with limited sunlight during the fall and winter months. These feelings of low spirit can take a toll on our mental well-being, affecting our daily lives and relationships. It’s important  to figure out ways to take care of ourselves when dealing with these seasonal mood changes. While these steps won’t make all the sadness disappear, they can really help handle the symptoms and make the winter months easier to get through.

1. Understanding the Difference Between Normal Sadness and Depression

It’s important to know the difference between normal sadness and clinical depression before looking into ways to take care of yourself. Normal sadness is temporary, but clinical depression is more serious, lasting at least two weeks and making daily activities, routines, and relationships difficult. Knowing this difference is key to getting the right help. Also, everyone’s mental health needs are different, so self-care should be personalized and consider both mental and physical health.

2. Understand Your Feelings

It’s important to recognize and express your emotions. If you ignore or hide them, they might get stronger. This is like trying to keep a beach ball pushed down in water; when you let go, it pops up even more forcefully. It’s okay to let yourself cry because it can help you feel better. Studies show that crying releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good and can help with physical and emotional pain. If you find yourself crying a lot or struggling to manage your feelings, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor or therapist.

3. Harness Natural Light, Vitamin D, and Light Therapy

The reduction in sunlight during the winter months can significantly impact mental health. Sunlight is not only essential for the production of vitamin D but also plays a crucial role in regulating our mood and sleep patterns. Low vitamin D levels, often from limited sunlight, can lead to depression-like symptoms. To counter this, eat vitamin D-rich foods (e.g. salmon, sardines, canned tuna, egg yolks, mushrooms ) and think about light therapy, especially through the use of SAD lamps.

SAD lamps copy natural daylight and can help regulate mood, improve sleep, and enhance overall well-being during the darker months. For optimal results, it’s recommended to use the SAD lamp daily, preferably in the morning, and to consult a healthcare provider before starting light therapy, especially if you have conditions like bipolar disorder or eye problems. If you’re considering vitamin D supplements, it’s also advisable to consult with a healthcare provider.

4. Embrace Self-Care

Comprehensive self-care means putting yourself at the top of your priority list. It’s not just a luxury; it’s crucial for better handling life’s difficulties and being there for others. This practice covers a variety of activities: setting healthy boundaries, choosing a balanced diet, keeping up with medical check-ups, organizing your environment, managing finances wisely, nurturing social ties, engaging in physical activities like yoga or walking, dedicating time for hobbies and relaxation, ensuring adequate sleep, and practicing mindfulness or meditation. The goal is to find activities that resonate with your true self and bring you genuine happiness.

5. Use Your Senses

Using your senses can help you focus on the present moment and stop worrying. Go outside, breathe deeply, and pay attention to what you can smell, feel, and see. Notice different smells and how things feel. Activities like making snow angels, building a snowman, listening to the sound of rain, or watching birds can remind you of fun, simple times and help you feel better during winter or any stressful period. These activities engage your senses and connect you with nature, bringing a sense of calm and joy.

6. Maintain a Gratitude Journal

Keeping a gratitude journal is a beneficial practice that improves mental health. Regularly documenting things you’re thankful for, even small joys like waking up to a new day or the smell of morning coffee, nurtures positivity. Reflecting on life’s journey, acknowledging hurdles, and recognizing personal growth adds depth to this therapeutic outlet. A gratitude journal serves as a record of thankful moments and helps in expressing and understanding emotions tied to personal experiences. Examples of gratitude entries might include:

  1. Gratitude for Personal Growth: Writing about how you’ve grown from past challenges, acknowledging the resilience and wisdom you’ve gained.
  2. Appreciation of Nature: Noting the beauty of a sunset you witnessed, or the peacefulness of a walk in the park.
  3. Thankfulness for Relationships: Expressing gratitude for supportive friends and family, or a kind gesture from a stranger.
  4. Recognition of Simple Pleasures: Appreciating a delicious meal, the comfort of your bed, or a relaxing evening.
  5. Acknowledgment of Achievements: Celebrating small victories, like completing a task or reaching a personal goal.

By maintaining a gratitude journal, you encourage a mindset that recognizes and appreciates the positive aspects of life, leading to enhanced mental and emotional well-being.

7. Keep an Eye on Your Thoughts

Pay attention to what you’re thinking and how you talk to yourself. Think about whether you’d say these things to someone you care about. Putting yourself down can make you feel worse, especially when it’s dark and cold in winter. Be aware of your thoughts and get ready to change any negative ones that come up. If you need help changing how you think, look for self-help books or try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT shows how your thoughts, feelings, and actions are connected and helps you change one to improve the others.

8. Prioritize Quality Sleep

The influence of sleep on mental health is profound, impacting one’s mind, body, and spirit. To optimize the healing potential of sleep, adhere to these healthy sleep practices:

  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule, waking up at the same time daily.
  • Establish a calming bedtime routine.
  • Create a peaceful sleeping environment.
  • Control light exposure before bedtime.
  • Monitor your diet and fluid intake before sleep.
  • Exercise regularly and maintain a balanced diet.
  • Minimize caffeine/alcohol consumption, especially in the evening.

Incorporating these recommendations can help alleviate the winter blues and support overall mental well-being during the challenging months of reduced sunlight.

In conclusion, taking care of your mental well-being during the winter is crucial. These tips can help with the winter blues, but if you want to know more about SAD or need to talk about your feelings, it’s a good idea to contact your healthcare provider. They can provide the right help and support to make you feel better. You’re not alone, and there are people who can assist you on your journey to feeling well.

Shelley Heavens, RSW
Marathon Family Health Team