6 Strategies for Combating the Winter Blues
Cold wintry weather find you unable to get out of bed in the morning? Find yourself stuck on the couch binge watching Netflix? You’re not alone. With shorter days and less sunlight, cold winter weather can lead to a sense of loneliness and sadness, otherwise known as “the winter blues.”
The science of Ayurveda recognizes winter as a Kapha season with strong Vata undertones. Characterized by cold temperatures, winter brings a sense of heaviness, increased moisture (usually in the form of rain or snow), cloud-covered days, and a grounded, slow feeling that sends many animals into hibernation (including us!). Fortunately, making few lifestyle changes can turn your winter blahs into winter smiles.
For many, shorter daylight hours and less sunlight trigger the onset of depression and sadness, known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). If you’re like most people with SAD, symptoms first appear in the late fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 5 percent of US adults experience SAD with symptoms lasting about 40 percent of the year. More common among women than men, SAD sufferers complain of plummeting energy, weight gain, depression, feelings of worthlessness and mood swings.
Why Is Winter So Hard?
Researchers don’t fully understand the reasons for SAD, but it’s thought that some people’s bodies can’t properly adjust their internal clocks (aka circadian rhythm) to winter’s shorter days. In particular, the trouble may lie with the body’s increased production of melatonin (which helps us feel sleepy) or its decreased production of serotonin (a neurotransmitter that’s thought to contribute to feelings of well-being).
A regular yoga practice is a great way to combat SAD by tapping into the mind-body connection. It is an incredible tool to reset the nervous system and help release tension and stress by increasing serotonin levels. Research shows that people suffering from depression who practiced yoga experienced an increase in serotonin and became more sociable. Though most studies focus on general depressive symptoms, experts believe that practices effective for other kinds of depression are likely to also work for SAD.
Combating Seasonal Depression
First, if you or someone you love experience chronic and debilitating seasonal depression, be sure consult with a physician. She may recommend medication, psychotherapy or even light therapy. Then, even if your symptoms are mild, paying attention to simple things, like getting outside every day, can be instrumental in shifting your mindset and mood.
Here are six (6) practices to support you in feeling more joyous and connected this winter:
1) Stick to a schedule
Most people who suffer from SAD have a hard time sleeping at night and waking up in the morning. Keeping your body on a regular sleep schedule can help you get a better night’s sleep which deters symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Ayurvedic wisdom suggests bedtime by 10PM or 11PM and rising by 7AM.
2) Spend time with others
Having quality time with friends and loved ones can really lift your spirits when the weather is cold and gray outside. Plan fun activities to do, grab a cup of coffee, a meal, Zoom call, etc. Having things to look forward to during the week will help tremendously!
3) Take a post lunch walk
Giving your body exercise and exposure to light during the winter months is one of the best ways you can combat SAD. Low levels of Vitamin D have been shown to increase your risk of seasonal affective disorder. Since no one likes to be cooped up inside for long periods of time, if it’s not too cold, get outside as much as you can. Walking outside will not only be very beneficial to your body in terms of exercise, but also increase your exposure to sunshine and light.
4) Practice gratitude
Focusing on the positive in our life counteracts sadness and lethargy. By affirming the abundance that surrounds us, we become more resilient and experience less depression.
5) Take time to meditate
Getting a daily dose of meditation, even as little as 5 minutes in the morning and evening, helps keep the mind calm and clear. Remember, there is nothing to be gained and nowhere to reach with meditation. Having moments of quiet to allow the mind to be free of the habitual thoughts can be enormously lightening when you’re feeling heavy.
6) Roll out your mat
Your yoga practice can help to invigorate you and create balance. When you are feeling sluggish, backbends such as Cobra, Bridge or Fish Pose can be reenergizing. Inversions, like Downward Facing Dog, Dolphin and Shoulder Stand, can make you feel more balanced. Finally, restorative poses like Child’s Pose, Legs Up the Wall or Side-Lying Savasana, can bring a sense of calm.
So, the next time you find yourself feeling down, give your body a re-charge with these practices and chase those winter blues away. For an easy, mini-sequence of simple backbends and gentle inversions to lift your spirits, read ” Yoga for the Winter Doldrums.”
published 1/3/22; updated 12/10/23