Six Research Backed Ways to Beat the Winter Blues and Protect Your Mental Health

By Sara Pasternak, LMSW, LSW

It’s that time of year again! After the holiday season ends, many of us find ourselves in a post-holiday winter slump. The months of January and February sometimes seem to drag by endlessly and some people even fall victim to symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as “Seasonal Depression”). In fact, researcher Darren Cotterell (2010) found that approximately 5 percent of the U.S. population is diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder! Here at Avita Integrative Care, we would like to empower our readers and patients with some tips that can help them battle the blues. Here are seven simple tricks that can help you protect your mental health this winter:1. Get Moving!
Getting plenty of exercise can help safeguard against Seasonal Affective Disorder during the winter months (and year-round)! In fact, research has shown that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression just as effectively as antidepressant medications (Robinson & Segal, 2017). It is recommended to aim for about 30-60 minutes of physical activity daily in order to notice significant benefits. However, even a little exercise is better than no exercise at all. Additionally, if you can get yourself moving outside in natural sunlight, you may notice a stronger positive effect than if you chose to do your exercise indoors.

2.    Find a Buddy Who Loves Winter!
According to research, emotions can be contagious. When people chose to surround themselves with happy individuals, they tend to feel more content and less stressed out themselves (Carter, 2012). Therefore, scheduling social plans with a positive, winter-loving friend can help influence your own mood, outlook and feelings about the colder weather and winter months.

3.    Brighten Up Your Home.
Open your windows and turn on your lights! Perhaps, even invest in a special light box that can be used to treat Seasonal Depression, such as this one here: https://www.amazon.com/Sphere-Gadget-Technologies-Lightphoria-Energy/dp/B004JF3G08/ref=zg_bs_13053141_2?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=Z8AGJGMFMPSBBBWQVB1G. Research shows that sitting next to a light box such as this one for 30 minutes a day can be just as effective in treating Seasonal Affective Disorder as Anti-Depressant medications (Hauck, n.d.).

4.    Book a Vacation!
If possible, treat yourself to a short vacation or weekend getaway. Choose a warm destination such as southern Florida or the Caribbean to get a healthy dose of “summer” weather. According to Dr. Rohan  “Across the board, [Seasonal Affective Disorder] patients will tell [mental health practitioners that] they feel better [after taking vacations]” (Orlov, 2014).

5.    Take Vitamin D Supplements.
According to researchers Penckofer, Kouba, Byrn, and Ferrans (2010) , Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is prevalent when vitamin D stores are typically low. Try taking a vitamin D supplement daily to counteract any deficiencies that may be messing with your mood. Supplements can be purchased at a pharmacy or your local Whole Foods Market. Of course, always talk to your primary care physician before starting any new dietary supplements.

6.    Book an Appointment with a Mental Health Professional
Beginning a therapeutic relationship with a licensed mental health professional can help one work through unpleasant symptoms and feelings experienced during the winter months. Certain types of psychotherapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) have been shown to be effective in treating depressive symptoms  (Melrose, n.d.).

Here at Avita Integrative Care we offer CBT, biofeedback, and psychological services/psychotherapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder and other mental health conditions. If you would like to schedule an appointment or discuss your concerns with a clinician please call (888) 242-2732. To speak with the Sara Pasternak, LMSW, LSW, the author of this blog post, dial extension 4.

Resources:

Carter, S. B. (2012, Oct). Emotions Are Contagious– Choose Your Company Wisely. Retrieved 2018, from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/high-octane-women/201210/emotions-are-contagious-choose-your-company-wisely

Darren Cotterell. “Pathogenesis and management of seasonal affective disorder.” Progress in Neurology and Psychiatry, Volume 14, Issue 5, Version of Record online: 7 OCT 2010

Hauck, B. (n.d.). 8 Scientifically-Backed Ways to Beat the Winter Blues. Retrieved Jan 2018, from RealSimple.com: https://www.realsimple.com/health/mind-mood/emotional-health/winter-blues

Melrose, S. (n.d.), Treating seasonal affective disorder with cognitive behavioural therapy is comparable to light therapy. Evidence-Based Mental Health 2016;19:e21.

Penckofer, S., Kouba, J., Byrn, M., & Ferrans, C. E. (2010). Vitamin D and Depression: Where is all the Sunshine? Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 31(6), 385–393. http://doi.org/10.3109/01612840903437657

Robinson, L. &. (2017, October). Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Recognizing and Treating the Winter Blues. Retrieved January 2018, from Helpguide.org: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad.htm