By Jane Nath, MSN, CNM, WHNP-BC
Here in the Pacific Northwest, dark and gloomy weather is the norm throughout the winter (and sometimes fall and spring, too!) If you notice your mood takes a dip during the colder months, here are some things you can do to help brighten your outlook and improve your energy levels.
1. Soak up natural light
With shorter daylight hours and cloudy skies, seeking out sunshine can sometimes feel impossible during the wintertime. During daylight hours, try to expose yourself to as much sunlight as possible: open the curtains, sit next to a window, and bundle yourself up for a quick lunchtime walk, when natural light is at its maximum.
2. Get outside — even in the drizzle!
Rain in the forecast? Even if the weather isn’t ideal, going for a quick walk outside each day will invigorate you and boost your mood. Investing in proper gear (waterproof shoes and a durable rain jacket or umbrella) will give you the freedom to spend time outdoors in any conditions. Create a habit by finding a realistic way to incorporate it into your daily routine, and start small: even just a few minutes will help!
3. Make your home cozy and bright
Create a comforting ritual when you arrive home each dark winter evening. This could include changing into comfortable clothes and slippers, lighting candles, turning on upbeat music, or even taking a warm bath. These habits will signal your brain to relax at the end of a long day, and help create a more positive mindset.
4. Maximize your sleep time
Light shining from your phone, computer, or TV screens can interfere with your brain’s production of sleep hormones. Try setting boundaries for your screen time, especially in the evenings: you might consider a cutoff time at least one hour before bedtime when you put your phone away to charge for the night (in a separate room!). Keep your sleep and wake times regular, avoid caffeine after lunchtime, and make your bedroom comfortable and dark to help improve your sleep quality. If racing thoughts are keeping you awake, talk to a therapist to discuss stress reduction strategies.
5. Plan uplifting activities
After the holiday season has come and gone, the winter months can drag on in a dark and monotonous way. Break up your normal routines by trying something new and exciting: it could be anything from starting a new hobby to planning a vacation. Volunteering in your local community is a perfect way to lift your spirits through serving others, and it’s free!
6. Consider trying bright light therapy
Studies have shown that using a bright white phototherapy lamp daily is often effective for improving winter mood. The most common recommendation is to use a 10,000 lux lamp for 30 minutes each morning. Another option is to use a dawn simulation lamp to wake you up in the morning: this has also shown good results in clinical trials. It’s important to note, however, that these interventions should be attempted under supervision of a mental health provider: phototherapy can interact with certain medications and mental health disorders, so it’s best to have a professional to check in with regarding this treatment plan.
Some people have a more severe version of the winter blues called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If you feel down, hopeless, or irritable much of the time, or if you no longer enjoy your favorite activities, make sure to talk to a therapist or mental health provider right away to get appropriate treatment.
Whether it’s a case of the winter blues or something more serious, get in touch with us today to make a personalized plan to improve your mental health. You can call 503-610-2044 or contact us online to schedule an appointment.
Wishing you a bright and healthy New Year!
Avery D. Seasonal Affective Disorder: Treatment. In: Post T, ed. UpToDate. Waltham, Mass.: UpToDate; 2017. www.uptodate.com. Accessed December 10, 2018.
Melrose S. Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches. Depress Res Treat. 2015;2015:178564.