It happens every year.
We turn back our clocks, looking forward to that extra hour of sleep.
But as it turns out, this time change signals the beginning of a tough season for many people. Seasonal affective disorder is more prevalent in locations with higher latitudes, so it's especially important for us in the Midwest to prepare for the winter.
The days are getting shorter, darker. It's tempting to stay inside, eat comfort food, and post up on the couch all night. And of course, this seems natural. It makes sense to conserve energy in preparation for the cold, dark winter.
But are these things helpful when you consider your mental health? All things in moderation, I say. But when hibernating becomes a habit, it's easy for seasonal anxiety and depression to grow stronger. Here are some ideas on managing your mental health this winter:
Set goals for nutrition and exercise
For most of us, healthy eating and regular exercise don't just happen. Their benefits are certainly more than physical. Certain foods can help manage your anxiety. A 2011 study in Norway showed that people who regularly ate meat and vegetables (versus a diet with more processed foods) had lower rates of depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. The effects of exercising on anxiety and depression include improved sleep, decreased stress and improved mood. It's worth mentioning that working out looks different for everyone- to you, it might mean practicing yoga at home (here's a great sequence for managing seasonal depression), taking your dog for a daily walk, or going to a gym.
Schedule social activities in the evening
Once each week, set aside some time in the evening to go out with friends. It doesn't have to be a huge time commitment- even a 30-minute coffee date with a friend can do wonders for your mood. Disclaimer: be mindful of consuming caffeine in the evening- it can mess with your sleep cycle, not to mention it exacerbates anxiety.
Reconsider your self-care plan
Get out a notebook and pen, and write down your self-care plan. Counseling for anxiety and depression is a great thing to include. What else are you doing to care for yourself? Yes, it can be hard and yes, it takes time. And yes, you are worth it.
Plan something exciting
They say the process of planning a vacation can be more pleasurable than actually going on a trip! Ironic, isn't it? No matter your budget, plan something you can look forward to this winter. It could be a weekend at a cozy cabin with your girlfriends, or a week-long family vacation in the sun. Breaking up the monotony of a Midwest winter can be a game-changer.
Participate in a winter activity
If you're into winter sports, you're probably looking forward to the season! But if winter is synonymous with depression, icy roads, and shoveling snow, it's no wonder you're not excited about it. Try to find just one special thing to do this winter. Maybe you could try snowshoeing, orr knitting by the fireplace. Or you could find a local winter festival! Here in the Twin Cities, we look forward to the Saint Paul Winter Carnival every year.
What are you doing to help yourself this winter? Leave a comment below or send me a note!