6 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues, According to a Psychotherapist

If you tend to feel down during the colder months, read this.

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A new Enterprise survey shows 82% of people say a getaway helps them escape the cold weather blues. Learn how to make it to spring and keep your spirits up.

Sure, the groundhog in Pennsylvania didn’t see his shadow, so according to folklore, spring is right around the corner.  Shadow or not, we’re in the thick of winter and cold and snow are inevitable, and with that so are the winter blues.

The winter blues, are more than just feeling blah.  It’s referred to as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) if symptoms begin and remit the same time each year and occur for two consecutive years. While with depression, symptoms persist and are not tied to a season.  The person often has low energy, feels hopeless, has difficulty concentrating, feels depressed, and isolates.

According to a recent survey conducted by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, with whom I’ve partnered, half of those surveyed report that their moods suffer in the winter and 82% say a getaway helps them to escape the winter blues.  These numbers coming out of the Enterprise survey, although concerning, are not surprising as they are consistent with what I see in my practice. Inevitably I have a wave of new patients coming to see me who cite the cold as impacting their moods.

The good news is, SAD is highly treatable and even if it’s just tweaking the way you think about winter and actually booking that weekend getaway, you’re going to be feeling much better. So often, the way we think affects the way we feel and that can have a profound impact on mood.  For example, do you think “I hate winter and will never make it through to spring.” Or do you think “Sure, winter sucks and is cold, but I know there’s an end in sight and there are things I can do to help make it easier?” The former is sure to keep you stuck while the latter might help to ease some of the harshness of the winter.  

Here are more tips to help get you through the winter:

1. Get moving.

Head to the gym and exercise or take the stairs at work. Aerobic exercise in particular stimulates endorphins and can help you to feel better. It’s also a good way to burn stress, and if you’re exercising in a gym or part of a group it provides social interaction which helps with depression and isolation that are common with SAD.

2. Get exposure to outdoor light.

Yes, even though it’s cold, bundle up, get outside and walk for at least 10 minutes a day. Light enters the brain through the eyes and impacts serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that play a role in mood. So instead of seeing cold as unbearable, focus on the sunshine and the benefits that come with it.  

3. Hit the road

Just as the Enterprise survey revealed, taking a weekend escape to warmer climates can work wonders. I advise all my patients who are prone to SAD to plan such a getaway. It gives you something to look forward to rather than dwelling on the long cold winter and it provides a healthy dose of sunshine and warmth.

4. Get closer to the window.

If possible arrange your office so that your desk is closer to the outside and to sunshine. This will provide natural light which will also help to enhance your mood. If this isn’t possible, consider a light therapy box. This is a device that creates an artificial light mimicking natural light.

5. Get social.

As with other mood disorders surrounding yourself with understanding, supportive, and encouraging people can help lift your spirits. Find people whom you trust and lean on them for support and plan activities like movies and dinners.

6. Change your attitude about winter.

Rather than dreading it and seeing it as a long endless season, see it as an opportunity to get involved with new activities. Perhaps skiing, sledding, or ice skating are fun activities worth trying with your friends? Embrace those things that are only available for a limited time every year. Looking for more inspiration to plan your upcoming winter getaway? Check out Enterprise.com/Pursuits.

Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days by Jonathan Alpert.

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