10 Ways to Beat The Winter Blues

Every year as the amount of daylight dwindles you may feel a shift in your personality.  This is most often referred to as the “Winter Blues” or in the more serious form, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  SAD is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons… sapping your energy and making you feel moody”  SAD typically starts in late fall and symptoms often resolve around spring.  

Don’t brush off those moody feelings.  There are proactive measures you can take to fend off the blues and have a happier winter season.  If you have tried all the tips and are still feeling down or you are having more extreme systems please seek medical or psychiatric support.

Check out our 10 ways to beat the winter blues!

Woman trail running with mountain background
Take care of yourself all year long by establishing habits before winter

Be Proactive

Just like with pain medication after major surgery or childbirth, it is better to start using these techniques before you are in the middle of winter. Instead, find ways to boost your mood before you start to feel the emotional slump. It can be hard to “catch up” on mood-boosting if you have gone a long time feeling down.

Check out our Winter for Outdoor Families posts for amazing ideas to keep all of your family members outdoors during the coldest months of the year. Being outdoors is a great year-round practice to boost your mental and physical health. There are lots of fun ideas that fit any family or personality.

Practice Gratitude

There are lots of different ways to practice gratitude. You can do it as a family around the dinner table each night. Maybe you share what you are grateful for in nightly prayers with your kiddos. For some people journaling what you are grateful for is another great option. Here is my favorite gratitude journal.

However you do it, regularly finding time to reflect on what you are grateful for has incredible mental health benefits. Practicing gratitude can help manage and reduce anxiety, help you cope with feelings of depression, and help replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk.

If you don’t already have a routine in place, try adding some journaling to your regular morning or bedtime routine a few times a week. Stacking routines, and pairing it with something else you regularly do helps to make it a habit. Try journaling after or even while brushing your teeth.

“Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done much of the research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.  One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.”

Harvard Medical School

Keep a Sleep Routine

Just like kids, our adult bodies thrive on routine. Keeping a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends, maintains the timing of the body’s internal clock. Getting consistent sleep also benefits your mental health by lowering stress and improving your mood.

Michigan Medicine, the University of Michigan’s academic medical center, used data from direct measurements of the sleep and mood of more than 2,100 participants over one year. The study found,

 “Those whose devices showed they had variable sleep schedules were more likely to score higher on standardized depression symptom questionnaires and to have lower daily mood ratings. Those who regularly stayed up late, or got the fewest hours of sleep, also scored higher on depression symptoms and lower on daily mood.”

Michigan Medicine

Try a fitness watch like the Galaxy Watch 5 or if wearing a watch to bed sounds uncomfortable you can try this sleep mat to help you track your sleep. This will help you pinpoint sleep patterns and help you make informed adjustments to get your best sleep. Make sleep a team effort; get all adults and children in the household on board with your sleep plan so that everyone gets the sleep they need.

Surround Yourself with Photos of Things You Love

For an extra positive mood, boost make sure your home and work areas have photos up of places and people you love. A 2012 study from the UK demonstrated that people who looked at personal photos enjoyed an 11% boost in their happiness and a 22% improvement in relaxation. I love looking up from my desk during the day and seeing pictures of my little ones.

For my family members last year I purchased a Frameo Smart Photo Frame. This is a digital frame that connects to the wifi in your home or office. You can give friends and family a unique code to your frame so that they can send pictures directly to it from the Frameo app. We share cute family photos directly with my parents and grandparents and they love seeing new ones pop up instantly on their frames.

Try Strength Training

The number of Google searches for “strength training for women” has doubled since 2004 according to Google trends. This is wonderful news because strength training is proven to help reduce bodily stress both physically and mentally. Not only is strength training good for relieving stress, but it also encourages stronger bones.

Getting a sweat on and lifting heavy is a great way to clear your head and give you a positive boost of endorphins. Postpartum I used my growing baby as my “weight” for strength training. It was so fun to see my body grow stronger as my baby grew bigger. Check out our favorite at-home workouts in this post.

Clean Your Environment

A cluttered and messy environment overstimulates our system (visual, olfactory, tactile). This causes our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important. The mess draws our attention away from what our focus should be on and makes it more difficult to relax, both physically and mentally. It constantly reminds our brains that we still have a huge to-do list. Let’s face it kids are walking mess tornados.

There are some things that help me feel in control of the mess. First, keeping my bedroom clean helps me have a space to escape when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Second, as my kiddos grow older they are expected to help more around the house taking some responsibility off of me. Last but not least, I outsource when I can. After winter break we pay a cleaning crew to come into our home to help us get on top of the chaotic holiday aftermath.

Work Near a Window

Studies show that people who are exposed to natural light during the day are better at problem-solving and mental clarity. Spending all day in a dark or closed-off room has the opposite effect: all workers without windows perform less effectively.

“sufficient daylight exposure… promotes office workers’ health and well-being.”

National Library of Medicine

Sometimes you don’t have access to natural light in your work area. If that is the case for you try your best to get natural light before work, during your lunch break, and after work. While at your desk consider purchasing a light therapy lamp to get a similar mood boost.

Make meetings walking meetings or outside meetings when possible. Not only will exposure to sunlight boost your mood but having the ability to walk while talking through topics can lead to more productive conversations. When people are moving their bodies it triggers both sides of the brain which boosts creativity and expansive thinking.

women sitting near window working on a computer, one of 10 ways to beat the winter blues
Finding a sunny spot to work is a great mood booster

Listen to Music

When we hit winter solstice and my drive to and from work is dark both ways, listening to music is a great mood booster. It is also a great tool to use when my kids are emotionally spent. A family dance party is fun for everyone.

“Music can redirect people’s thoughts and feelings when they are anxious or worried.”

Psychology Today

If you want to listen to music only safe for adult ears around your kiddos while they practice their dinosaur roars, I’m speaking from experience here, consider some ultra-comfy noise-canceling Apple AirPods Max or Bose headphones. If you want to pair your mood-boosting music with some mood-boosting exercise consider Shokz OpenRun Mini Wireless Headphones.

women listening to music on headphones
Find space to reset while some headphones and music

For another audio break, we like to do “rest time” with my older two kiddos on a daily basis. This insures their bodies get an important break and that I get an important break from my children. We use the Hatch Light to give my kids a visual picture of the time they have to stay in their rooms and rest. The light turns green when it is time to come out.

For screen-free entertainment, my kids use the Yoto mini to listen to stories during their rest time. My toddler loves the Llama Llama collection and Brown Bear and Friends. My five-year-old loves to listen to the Disney Classics.

Take Meditation Walks

Meditation is great for managing anxiety and stress but some of us just can’t find the time or patience to sit still to meditate. A great alternative for those of us who can’t manage to sit still to meditate but still want the benefits of meditation is walking meditation. Walking meditation is designed to bring body and mind in sync while we’re out and about. 

Walking meditation can be done with kids in tow in a stroller, on their bikes, or walking with you. As you walk, try to focus your attention on one or more body sensations, such as your breath coming in and out of your body; the movement of your feet and their contact with the ground; nature sounds nearby; or whatever your eyes take in as you walk.

This shouldn’t feel funny or exaggerated and don’t worry, no matter how much you try to fix your attention on any of these sensations, your mind will most likely wander. That’s OK and natural. When you notice your mind begin to wander, simply gently redirected it to focus again on one of those sensations. Listening to a guided meditation such as the one found specifically for walking on the Headspace App can help you be successful.

Women skiing solo in winter
A meditation walk or ski is a great way to clear away stress and anxiety

Up Your Protein

What you eat can affect your mood. Eating protein-rich food such as fish, beef, chicken, tofu, beans, and eggs has been linked to higher levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, than sugary carb-rich foods.  Dopamine and norepinephrine are two important brain chemicals that play a role in your mood, motivation, and concentration.

“The consumption of sweetened beverages, refined foods, and pastries has been shown to be associated with an increased risk of depression in longitudinal studies.”

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

One of the best ways to up your protein intake is to make sure you have protein-rich snacks handy. Chomps beef sticks are my favorite on-the-go easy protein source because they don’t require refrigeration.

Put on Your Facemask First

There is a ton of pressure as a mom to hold it all together for your family. Make sure you take the time for yourself and put some of these mood boosting things in place so you don’t burn out trying to do everything for everyone else. Just like the flight attendants on airplanes remind you to put on your facemask first before assisting others, you need to fill your own cup before you can be the best mom and partner.

Little girl pushing a stroller in the snow
Your kiddos are always watching; model positive mental health steps for them and yourself

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10 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

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  • Anna is a proud Washingtonian living in the Cascade mountain range with her park ranger husband and their three kids. Their family is lucky enough to live in a ranger house in a state park and have lots of access to the outdoors year-round. Anna is expecting her fourth child in early March and is on a mission to find the best gear for the tiniest of explorers.

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