January is considered the most depressing month of the year. The weather is cold and miserable, daylight is in short supply, you’ve got the post-holiday blues (disappointment that the holidays didn’t go well or having a hard time adjusting to work/school after leisurely holidays), and then there are the holiday weight gain and credit card bills that start to roll in. It makes perfect sense that many of us feel down in January and that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is at its peak this time of year.
It’s tempting to curl up on your couch, eat your favorite comfort food, and binge watch TV. This is fine on the occasional Sunday afternoon, but if you’re prone to depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder, it’s not going to be helpful on a regular basis.
Try these 15 behavioral strategies for challenging symptoms of winter depression or SAD.
- Get out of the house. We spend much more time inside during the winter. Not only is all that sitting unhealthy, but it’s isolating and not mentally stimulating to spend many hours in your own house or apartment. A simple change of scenery can change your perspective on things. Be sure you get out every day no matter if it’s for a walk around the block, to a new restaurant, or to an appointment.
- Laugh. There’s a reason that videos of giggling babies and dancing goats are so popular! They make us feel better by quickly shifting our focus onto something fun, hopeful, and uplifting.People who laugh often are more resilient and relaxed.
- Say “no” to something you don’t want to do. All of my regular readers know that I’m a big believer in boundaries and the happiness boost that you can get from speaking your mind and choosing what’s right for you.
- Give yourself a treat. Regular treats are another one of my favorite happiness boosters. Unlike rewards, treats don’t have to be earned. You simply give them to yourself because they make you happier. The only rule is that your treats have to be healthy. Sorry, fistfuls of potato chips don’t count (and they won’t make you feel better anyway).
- Clear the clutter. Yes, your environment has an impact on your mood. Piles of mail and counters filled with clutter contribute to overwhelm and fatigue. A nice, neat space can be surprisingly helpful when you’re feeling down. If you’re lacking the motivation and energy to clean, just spend five minutes tidying up to get started.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Somethings really aren’t worth getting upset about. The key here is to know what really matters to you and try to keep things in perspective. I know this is a hard one. Letting go of the “small stuff” isn’t about denying your feelings or avoidance; it’s a conscious decision to put your effort into what matters to you and releasing things that are out of your control or are truly minor annoyances.
- Put on your favorite playlist. Music has a huge impact on our emotional state. Music has a way of getting into your soul. Jam out to whatever kind of music you like. It doesn’t have to be “happy” or “uplifting” music to be therapeutic.
- Spend time with your pets. If you have a pet, you already know that pets can be both fun and calming. When you’re feeling down, spend some extra time petting your cat or playing catch with your dog. You’ll both be happier!
- Eat a healthy lunch (and an afternoon snack). Certainly, nutrition in general is important for physical and mental health. I’m focusing on lunch because I think it’s often neglected. Many of you don’t eat lunch at all! I’m not a doctor or nutritionist, but I know from experience that when your blood sugar drops from not eating anything, your mood also drops (think about how irritable children get when they’re hungry, for example). And nutritional science does support that eating healthy foods at regular intervals will help you maintain a more positive and stable mood.
- Mindfully use your senses to increase enjoyment of everyday life. When you’re busy and distracted, you take a lot of things for granted; you’re simply not paying attention to the little pleasures in life. Tuning into all of your senses and enjoying everyday experiences through taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound can add a new level of appreciation and enjoyment to them.
- Move your body. One minute of gentle stretching or jumping jacks is enough to refocus your brain, get your blood flowing, and add some new energy to your languishing mood.
- Buddy up. Most things in life are more fun when done with a friend. So, seize the opportunity to connect with a buddy (just make sure s/he’s got positive energy).
- Write it out. Feelings need an outlet. Writing is a quick, safe, and effective way to process through what you’re feeling and what’s happening in your life. Writing can help you clarify your feelings, gain insight, and is a great way to release some of the “negative” feelings that you’ve been storing in your mind and body.
- Turn on more lights. Light therapy is a non-invasive treatment often used for SAD that involves sitting in front of bright lights. Even if you don’t have SAD, simply turning on extra lights in your house or office can help improve your mood. It’s not a coincidence that we associate darkness with depression. The days really are dark this time of year, so brighten up your space and your mood by letting in natural sunlight when possible and turning on the lights.
- Anticipate a fun-filled activity. Nothing gets your mind off of your problems, like having something to look forward to. If you can plan your next vacation, awesome! If not, there’s plenty to look forward to right in your own community. Consider buying tickets to a concert, plan a night out without the kids, or head to a movie you’ve been wanting to see. The key here is to find something that you’re really jazzed about doing and savor not only the experience, but the anticipation of doing it.
Recovering from the winter blues, SAD, or depressive symptoms always involves a combination of both honoring your feelings and actively giving yourself a little push to do something different. I hope you’ll find an idea or two from the list above that feels like a good place to start moving yourself toward more energy, happiness, and peace of mind.
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©2017 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
Winter landscape stock photo from freedigitalphotos.net