The following reflection was written by the director of counseling for Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri (CCCNMO).
Some will say, “If you can get through a Midwestern winter, you can get through anything.”
And while we Midwesterners are hardy people, it can be a real struggle to keep your spirits up after months of being stuck indoors due to snow and cold temperatures.
Even if you’re an outdoorsy winter person, the shortened days and lack of sunshine can still have an impact. By this time of the year, the number of Midwesterners who don’t want warmer days is starting to dwindle.
Enter, the Winter Blues.
This common mood shift experienced during the colder and darker months of fall and winter is typical for those living in areas where hours of daylight vary greatly from summer to winter.
While symptoms can range from mild and inconvenient to severe and highly disruptive, it is important either way to be mindful of and address them once you notice them.
Signs of the Winter Blues
First off, let’s talk about what it looks like:
There are many factors that contribute to this mood condition from our family history, genetics, environment, daily habits and even the food we eat!
While the precise causes aren’t fully understood, it is generally agreed that a combination of these factors impacts people in different ways and causes them to feel generally “low” during winter months.
The Winter Blues are very common, so take heart and know that you are not alone. Many go through this each year; many more don’t even realize what it is.
And have hope, because there are many strategies that are simple and effective in managing this winter woe.
Light therapy is the No. 1 treatment recommendation for the winter blues.
Whether the sun is shining bright or hidden behind clouds, make it a priority to get at least 20 minutes of unfiltered sunlight every. single. day!
Have your morning coffee on your porch or in front of a sun-facing window. Set a reminder on your phone or watch to prompt you to pop outside for a minute or two during every hour of daylight.
If getting outdoors isn’t an option, consider purchasing a light therapy lamp. You can find them for as low as $25 on Amazon.com, or your health insurance may cover one (ask your primary care physician or psychiatrist for a prescription).
If you’re purchasing one on your own, make sure the lamp emits at least 10,000 LUX.
Use light therapy as early in your day as possible to reset or maintain a healthy sleep cycle and battle fatigue. Avoid light therapy in the evening, as it may be too stimulating and interfere with sleep cycles.
If you have diabetes or bipolar disorder, speak with a physician before starting light therapy.
Winter is not the time to “go low carb.” Eat the majority of your daily allotted nutritious carbohydrates for breakfast and lunch, plus morning and afternoon snacks (approx. 80%) to boost and maintain your energy throughout the day.
Have a small serving of carbs at dinner (approx. 20%) to aid in the production of necessary sleep-inducing chemicals.
Here is a “beat the winter blues” example meal plan
Breakfast — breakfast burritos with salsa and pumpkin bread
Lunch — chicken wrap and veggie pasta salad
Dinner — tomato bisque with nutty apple spinach salad and skinny oven fries
(Special thanks to Lori Stoll, CCCNMO Food Program Coordinator, for providing the above nutritious resources to both clients and staff.)
If structuring your meals is a daunting task, these simple strategies to ride your body’s natural energy wave towards bedtime:
Physical activity is known to support energy and sleep, as well as boost mood and fight the winter blues.
This doesn’t have to be intense exercise or be time-consuming. Aim for 20 minutes per day.
Similar to light therapy, this can be done all at once or in bits and pieces throughout your day.
To get the most benefit from the activity you choose, get moving earlier rather than later in your day.
Level up! Walk the outdoor perimeter of your work building or home once every hour or take a short walk over your lunch break to get BOTH light therapy and physical activity.
Or add the office exercises at darebee.com/workouts/office-workout.html to your schedule a few times a day (they just take a few minutes to complete)
Do something you enjoy every day! This can be as simple as listening to music you highly enjoy on your daily commute. Listen to an audiobook or podcast while you make dinner.
You can find an activity list at therapistaid.com/worksheets/activity-list.pdf to inspire you.
Remember, the purpose of this practice is to do something you enjoy, not to do an activity just for the sake of doing an activity.
Also, consider adding 10 minutes of relaxation practice to your evening routine. “Smiling Mind” is a great meditation app for all ages. Or try your hand at centering prayer:
(Special thanks to Sr. Kathleen Wegman, CCCNMO Director of Mission Integration, for providing these resources on centering prayer.)
Another thing ...
If you feel that the symptoms are making it difficult to maintain relationships, complete work or manage daily, or if you’ve tried some or all of these strategies consistently for two to three weeks with no improvement, please reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional for help.