Winter is a misunderstood season. The holiday frenzy and new year often obscure the best winter has to offer -- a season of inward reflection, comfort foods and lots of sleep. Adjusting with the seasons is essential to functioning your best, but winter presents a challenge for many of us.
About 20 to 25 percent of people will suffer with mood changes during the winter months. Along with low mood, other symptoms of depression appear for many, such as changes in sleep and appetite, irritability, feelings of hopelessness and guilt. If you are struggling, it is time to take action and, perhaps, reconsider your goals for this season.
Below are a few tips to consider, but my main point is this: live seasonally. Winter is a time to reflect, rest and slow down.
Few things are as central to your mental health and perspective as your breath. My colleagues at The Center for Mind-Body Medicine led by Jim Gordon, M.D., have researched the powerful effects of our minds on our overall health and resilience. The simple act of intentionally breathing, softening the belly, closing the eyes and clearing the mind is real medicine. Don't let the simplicity fool you.
Stop Making Plans.
A few weekends ago, we had no plans and I panicked a bit. No play dates for our kids, no one was coming over --nothing. As I pondered my last-minute attempts to socialize, I looked at our living room. The sun was pouring in and baskets of toys lay waiting for revelry. We spent the next two hours playing on the floor. Play, read, nap, write -- just stay off your screen and enjoy your life.
This is not your typical advice. It's winter folks. Go to bed early, get some solid sleep and take naps.
Check Your Levels.
If you mood has gone wonky, make sure the cause is not a simple reversible vitamin deficiency. At the top of the list are vitamin D and vitamin B12. Deficiencies of both are rather common and can impact mood. Vitamin D is made from the sun and essential for you health. Surprisingly, clinical trials hoping to prevent seasonal depression with large doses of vitamin D have failed to show any benefit. However, I still check levels on all my patients, and last winter I had a low level myself. Get checked out and replete as advised by your healthcare professional, but be aware that keeping your mood up in the winter takes more than vitamin D.
I'm not talking a massive carb quest. I am talking about power foods as comfort foods. In short, this means more seafood, dark leafy greens, nuts and root vegetables. Many top superfoods, like berries and tomatoes, are in retrograde right now. Out of season means less fresh, less flavor, fewer nutrients and more cost--that's enough to tank my mood. Try to eat more plants like squash, kale, small potatoes (small blue and purple yams are my current favs), leeks and apples that are in season.
Get A Group.
Though I mentioned making less plans above, few things boost mood like feeling connected to other people. The power of groups to motivate and elevate us continues to astound me. Enroll in a cooking or meditation course, join a book club or find a sports team. If you need a great resource for groups, check out Meetup.com.
If you've noticed a significant change in your mood or people in your life have commented that you seem down, try the tips above and get some assistance now, by talking with your physician or a qualified mental health professional.
How do you keep your mood up during the winter? Let me know @DrewRamseyMD