The holiday season is often a time of high emotion and demands. This year, many of us are either separated from loved ones, worried, quarantined or sick. This has left many feeling down, stressed and exhausted. The winter blues usually experienced by about 15% of the population is affecting over 33% of us this year.
The medical name for this annual winter syndrome is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Though the exact causes of SAD are unknown, specialists believe that serotonin – a hormone stabilising mood, well-being and happiness, and melatonin – affecting our biological clock, sleep and mood – both play a key role. Signs and symptoms of SAD can include:
- Feeling depressed, worthless, hopeless
- Low energy and fatigue
- Difficulty sleeping or over-sleeping
- Overeating, especially carbs and sweets
- Changes in weight, most typically weight gain
- Isolation and social withdrawal
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone! Understanding what can prevent or relieve SAD can help you handle it more effectively and feel better. Read on to create the most positive holiday and winter season focusing on the GLAD’s (instead of SAD’s.)
G – Get active
One of the easiest ways to manage SAD is through physical activity. Research shows that just 30 minutes of daily exercise boosts mood, sleep and energy. In addition, exercising outdoors has the extra benefits of sunlight, tougher workouts and more calorie burn. Start today!
- Walk anywhere and everywhere – every step counts.
- Do what you enjoy! Play in the snow, ice skate, sled, dance, walk, bike, run…
- Take short breaks throughout the day to move your body, walk around the house or neighborhood.
- Invite a friend, family member or pet, to increase your motivation and fun.
- Create an alternate routine for bad weather days. Explore online options, yoga, dancing, a treadmill or indoor bike.
- Track your steps and progress with an app.
- Dress for the weather and remember what the Nordics say “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”
L -Light up your life!
Just 20-30 minutes per day of extra light exposure is another effective way to combat the winter blues. Growing evidence suggests a link between SAD and low Vitamin D levels – the sunshine vitamin deficient in most people in the northern hemisphere. Light up!
- Get outside as often as possible, especially on sunnier days to improve focus, mood and stress.
- Bundle up and order a coffee, tea or hot cocoa to-go and enjoy outside!
- Open blinds and curtains at home and/or office.
- Sit by a window whenever possible.
- Light fragranced candles to improve mood, reduce anxiety, and even combat fatigue or loneliness.
- Try light therapy – sitting near a device – shown to relieve SAD symptoms for 70% of people
A – Adopt self-care
When things seem out of control, nothing feels better than being in charge. Taking care of yourself with things like nutrition, rest and you-time can help you take charge and realign your routines. Observing, journaling or tracking your food, exercise, sleep and even screen time can raise your awareness and set you up for shifting your habits. Pay special attention to:
- Ensure half of your intake is fruits and vegetables.
- Focus on whole non refined carbs such as oats, whole grains and legumes that are absorbed slowly and satisfy for longer.
- Avoid excessive processed carbohydrates and sweets which can trigger overeating and mood swings.
- Drink enough water to ensure body balance, digestion, energy and mood. Herbal teas are a wonderful winter way to hydrate.
- Eat Omega 3 fats through foods like salmon, tuna, avocados, seeds and nuts.
- Go for high magnesium foods such as dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans, bananas, dried fruit and dark chocolate.
- Sleep when you’re tired, maybe even begin a new nap routine on days off
- Take a relaxing bath, manicure your nails, read a book or just watch your favorite Netflix.
D – Do something special
It’s normal to feel SAD and frustrated when much-anticipated events are canceled or modified. However, staying stuck in that mindset won’t change the situation. Once you’ve acknowledged and processed your feelings, find new ways to make your holidays special.
- Give. Giving can have long-lasting physical and psychological benefits.
- Reach out to people you have not connected with lately or that just might need you right now. One of the main ways we experience positive emotion is through the company of others – even if physically distanced.
- Create new traditions by assessing your current situation and making the most of it. Who said Christmas had to be celebrated on the 24th or 25th?
- Try new foods, new schedules, new routines. Who knows, you might discover something you maintain for the future!
- Pay attention, give compliments, appreciate little gestures, listen and ask questions, do little things to show loved ones they matter.
- Be positive because not only does everyone prefer to be around positive people, it’s also good for your health.
- Smile! Smiling activates neural messaging benefitting both health and happiness.
S – Step back
The end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 is the ideal time to step back from the chaos to reflect on what you’ve learned.
- What are some silver linings? Write them down or share.
- How can you make 2021 different? Record your thoughts as inspiration.
- What are some positive things you can look forward to right now? Dinner? Snow? Love?
Now, stay right here and be grateful for the now. After all, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Being thankful helps you feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve your health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
Aren’t you GLAD you read this? I am. Thank you and Happy Holidays!