Here is December’s installment of “Ask Shelby” with Chester County’s own Marriage and Family Therapist, Shelby Riley:
I always feel sort of depressed in the winter. I eat more, sleep more, and I feel less motivated and just kind of sad. Is there anything I can do to feel better, or do I just have to wait this out?
Signed, Winter Blues
Dear Winter Blues,
You are in good company. A lot of people report feeling a bit depressed during the winter. The days are shorter, the sun is often hiding, it’s cold, and people tend to “hibernate.” A few lifestyle changes can make a big difference. Make sure you are getting enough sleep (at least 7 to 8 hours), and try to sleep on a consistent schedule, going to bed and waking up at around the same time each day. Start your day with some light stretching and try to get in some cardio exercise for 30 minutes at least three or four times a week. If the sun is out in the morning, make a point to bundle up and step outside for some sunshine and fresh air. The exposure to sun helps to reset your circadian rhythms and the light exercise and fresh air help alleviate the “cabin fever” feeling and help to release important hormones and brain chemicals linked to a better mood.
Also aim to eat a healthy diet. With less fresh fruits and vegetables available, it’s easy to eat more comfort foods and that leaves most people feeling sluggish. Look for healthy soup, chili, and stir-fry recipes to satisfy both your need for warm, comforting foods and your need for healthy ingredients. Pay attention to adding some healthy fats, like those from avocados, nuts, fatty fish and olive oil, as Omega 3 fatty acids have been linked to better mood management.
You will also want to balance your time snuggled up indoors in front of a fire with time spent with friends and family. Engaging in social activities is a great way to improve your mood. Decide you will go over to your friend’s house, even if you don’t feel like it. Most people find they are often glad they forced themselves to go, and end up having a good time. Find some fun group activities to do that can build positive winter memories: snow-shoeing, ice skating, gingerbread house competitions.
Lastly, look at the way you think and talk to yourself during the winter. Decide to notice the aspects of winter that you love. Practice being present and mindful as you walk, noticing the frost on the lawn, the way the icicles sparkle in the sun, the animal tracks left in the snow. If you hear yourself thinking, “I’m tired, it’s too cold to do anything,” respond by saying to yourself, “It is cold. Hopping on the treadmill to watch my show will warm me up and wake me up.” There is a lot of power in the way we think. It greatly influences our actions. Try keeping a gratitude journal during this time, noting at least five things every day that you are grateful for.
If after implementing these changes, you still feel depressed, I would recommend consulting with your primary care physician or a therapist to discuss your symptoms and other ways you might address alleviating your depression.
**Remember to check out Shelby’s website, Family Help Today, for a variety of useful information for couples, individuals, families, and kids. You can also find out more about Shelby’s AWESOME e-books on her site.