The days are shorter, and something feels off inside your body. It might be more challenging to regulate mood or sleep well in the winter because of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Wellness and self-care strategies are all over the internet in attempts to defeat the winter blues. What are the most impactful ways to care for yourself based on how SAD affects the body, especially when you miss connecting with nature and daylight?
Heal Your Circadian Rhythm
Your internal clock goes out of whack during the winter, which can affect sleep. During sleep, your body manages hormones, heals wounds, logs memories and regulates metabolism.
People dealing with SAD experience these benefits less frequently, causing decreased self-esteem, poor mood and low energy. It would help if you mitigated the losses by supplementing your routine. Get more light and focus on sleep hygiene to rev things up again.
Here are short- and long-term strategies to supplement the low-light and fatiguing conditions caused by SAD:
- Wake therapy – This treats SAD symptoms through sleep deprivation and regulated bedtime schedules. Only use this strategy in medically controlled environments.
- Dawn simulators – These lights simulate the rising sun, which helps people feel more awake in the morning. This strategy may reduce depressive symptoms by up to 42.2% and improve alertness.
- Social rhythm therapy – This regulates habits and routines to level mood by tracking social rhythm metrics, like when you get out of bed or engage in a regularly strenuous activity.
- Bright light therapy – This involves exposing yourself to concentrated light levels in a 10,000-lux light box for around 30 minutes.
- Sleeping longer or shorter – People may develop hypersomnia or insomnia during winter, so add or remove sleep accordingly to prevent symptoms.
- Avoiding blue light – Screens decrease melatonin production, which is necessary for healthy sleep. Try eliminating them one hour before bedtime.
An average of 5%-20% of adults experience varying degrees of seasonal affective disorder and winter blues symptoms. Notify and consult with professionals for additional guidance on starting new treatments. Staying communicative with medical staff is self-care in and of itself. They may suggest sleep aids, vitamin D supplements or serotonin-boosting prescriptions, depending on your circumstances.
Go Outside Anyway
You’ve heard nature is medicine. Even if it’s cold or gloomy, challenge yourself to step outdoors. The fresh air will do wonders for your body and mind. It encourages low-impact physical activity like walking to stimulate your heart, blood flow and respiratory system. Going outdoors also quells some symptoms you experience by hibernating. Isolation is hard on the body, and going outside — even among neighbors or strangers — greatly affects morale.
Relax Your Way
The winter and holiday season is rife with potentially toxic activities like alcohol and overeating. You don’t have to fall into these indulgent, unsustainable activities, mainly if they cause more harm than comfort. You also don’t have to follow self-care advice online to take everything showers or meditate if that’s not your style.
Rejuvenate yourself in ways that mean something to you instead of following the standards of online influencers. For example, you may feel refreshed after playing your favorite video game or calling a grandparent. Others would find these activities pointless or stressful. Dig deep into what brings you joy and write it down. Use this list as a resource for when SAD symptoms strike and do one item off of it for self-care.
Lean Into The Fresh Start Effect
The new year excites everyone. There is a persistent optimism and motivation to start fun projects and make positive changes in your life. Try overwhelming the adverse side effects of SAD with the joy and possibilities the new year brings. Here are small and large ways to get the benefits of the fresh start effect, regardless of the time of year:
- Set SMART goals
- Tidy one or all areas of your home
- Plan a goal and execute one small action to get closer to it
- Keep track of daily achievements
- Practice gratitude
- Recall times you’ve overcome challenges
- Reflect on the year’s wins
Wellness Techniques To Combat SAD
Everyone’s experience with SAD might vary slightly. Some have sleep issues, while others lose interest in their favorite hobbies, longing to feel the sun’s warmth again on their skin. Fortunately, there are ways to handle these emotions and biological responses.
Try one strategy. If that doesn’t work, try something else. You will need a self-care package of techniques to test and trial every day, but you will be better equipped to fight seasonal affective disorder and make your heart smile more this winter.
Jane is an environmental writer and the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co where she covers sustainability and eco-friendly living.