SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) — It’s no secret that winter blues and seasonal depression abound in cold winter months, and for Utahns, winter does not seem to be going anywhere.
With a snowy beginning of April rolling in, it might be time to look at some expert tips on how to reduce the blues.
Eva Timothy, an assistant professor at USU Extension, says Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is “a type of depression that occurs primarily during winter and is caused by various factors, including decreased exposure to sunlight and [high] altitude.” Symptoms include decreased interest in activities, low energy levels, weight gain, and excessive sleep, according to Timothy.
Whether it’s a case of SAD or a mild go of the blues, here are five tips Timothy says can help.
1. Exercise outdoors
A study shows exercise alone can reduce depression symptoms by 50%, according to Timothy, and when paired with sunlight, the benefits can increase. While you may need to dress warmly, Timothy suggests exercising outside as much as possible.
Besides traditional exercises such as walking and jogging, Timothy says you may consider adding in winter exercise activities such as snowshoeing, trail hiking, bird watching, skiing and snowboarding, or even building snowmen and igloos.
2. Reframe negative thoughts
Our thoughts make a big impact on how feel, according to Timothy, and reframing them could improve our overall mood. First, she says to identify the negative thoughts and question them. You may want to try disproving the thought or consider what advice you would give to a friend.
The Harvard Stress and Development Lab suggests two methods of reframing: positive reframing and examining the evidence. It also suggests reminding yourself that thoughts are not facts, identifying extreme and absolute language in your thoughts, and attempting to look through someone else’s perspective.
For more information on reframing methods, click here.
3. Prioritize self-care
Self-care is a hot topic in recent years, with the practice ranging from spiritual and social self-care to mental and physical practices. The key is to be aware of your own personal needs, Timothy said.
“Self-care is crucial for maintaining mental and emotional health. If you don’t take care of yourself, who will?” Timothy wrote in a release.
Self-care practices include getting more sleep, seeking out happy people, getting a massage, planning a getaway trip, and scheduling moments alone, according to Psychology Today and WebMD.
While there is a range of self-care options, remember the key is to schedule in time to do something that fulfills your needs.
4. Practice gratitude
It may sound like something your mother would suggest, but in this case, it’s experts giving the advice. Studies have found that practicing gratitude can lead to greater happiness. One study even found evidence suggesting that gratitude has lasting positive effects on the brain.
Timothy says gratitude works by shifting the brain’s attention away from negativity towards positive thoughts and feelings.
If you have tried this one before and did not see any benefits, try practicing gratitude for a longer period of time as the study found that mental health benefits of gratitude take time to show. In the study, the initial benefits took four weeks to appear, and after 12 weeks the results were even stronger. The bottom line? Give it time.
5. Strengthen connections with loved ones
While winter may be restricting in some ways, it doesn’t have to cut off ties with loved ones. The level of connection that we have with others directly influences our mental health, according to Timothy.
She suggests phone calls, playdates, walks, hugs, and sharing our daily joys and struggles with others as ways to stay connected regardless of the season.
Studies link social connection to increased happiness, better health, and even a longer life span, according to Mental Health America. So give your friend a call, there’s a good chance it’ll improve both of your moods. And who knows? You might even live longer.
Striving to improve your own mental health is a worthy cause and something that deserves our attention. However, sometimes we need help in the effort. If your winter blues are turning into a debilitating depression, please seek professional help.
For more information on mental illness, go to the National Alliance on Mental Illness Utah: namiut.org. If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the suicide prevention hotline at 988.