For me, it all starts with packing away the Christmas decorations. As I pack the decorations into their corresponding boxes, a small sense of sadness creeps in, and thoughts that there isn’t much to look forward to, come out. Days are shorter, with darkness beginning early and the neighbourhood quieter as people stay inside. It suddenly becomes more difficult to do things that are usually simple, like making dinner, socializing, going to the gym, or even getting out of bed in the morning.
Although it may feel like you are stuck until the days become brighter and warmer, and it’s true that you cannot force yourself to be in a better mood, there are things you can do to help alleviate your suffering during this time!
Here are some tips to help keep you on track and manage the winter blues:
- Exercise regularly: I cannot stress this one enough. Often exercising is the last thing we feel like doing when we feel blue, but the research suggests substantial evidence for the positive benefits of exercise on mood. When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins, which work in a similar way to antidepressants. Exercising also has an energizing effect, which can help with the fatigue that often accompanies the winter blues. If you are finding troubles motivating yourself to exercise, try to find an exercise buddy, set an alarm on your phone to remind you to exercise, or mark the days you exercised on a calendar to help keep you accountable.
- Continue to do the things you love: In the wintertime, it is easy to talk ourselves out of going to things that are important to us. I notice myself having more trouble getting to the gym or yoga class – both things I enjoy – simply because they seem like a lot more work during this time. Make a list for yourself of activities that are meaningful to you, and make a commitment of how many days a week you would like to do this activity. Then when your mind throws up barriers…
- Don’t always listen to your mind: If you are feeling low, you are likely having more negative thoughts than normal. I find that during the winter months, I have more negative thoughts about myself, my relationships, and life in general. It is important that we are mindful of these thoughts, and notice them without becoming attached. One of the easiest ways to do this is by labeling the thought. For example, “I notice I am having the thought that I am not good enough” is very different than “I am not good enough”, as it helps us recognize that it is a thought that we are having instead of an ultimate truth. You can also try a more formal exercise, such as leaves on a stream (found here)
- Talk to someone: Unfortunately, when we are feeling blue, one of our common coping mechanisms is to avoid social interaction. Sometimes we do not even realize we are doing it until a relative or friend points it out. During this time of year it is important to reach out to those we care about, despite the fact that it may not always be easy. As we will discuss in next week’s blog (and on Bell Let’s Talk Day on January 25th!), talking is incredibly important for connection and emotional well-being. If you do not feel comfortable talking to a friend, partner, or family member, consider taking advantage of our free consultation and speak to myself or another one of our counsellors to find out more about how we can help.
I hope these strategies help you as much as they have helped me in managing the winter blues. Even though they do not make the negative feelings disappear completely, they are effective in helping you suffer less by engaging in the things that are meaningful to you even with difficult thoughts or feelings present.