Tips for Preventing + Combating the Winter Blues & Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

As the days get darker it can be harder to keep that pep in our step. The cooler weather & shorter days are definitely here to stay. I don’t know about you, but I’m a summer girl through and through! Winter can be hard for the best of us – it’s cold, it’s dark and it’s just straight up harder to find motivation.

With that said, I find it way easier to prevent a funk then to dig myself out of one, so I wanted to share a few basic tips that help me prevent the sluggish feeling that can come along with the change of seasons and colder, darker weather. *These tips can also be used to pull yourself out of a slump.

I personally feel that we all experience a bit of a shift in our mood and motivation with the change of seasons, but I do want to acknowledge that SAD is recognized as a mental health disorder. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to loved ones or a professional for help if you feel you need it!

Anyway, let’s get right into it! There are plenty of other amazing tips that I could add to this list, but I wanted to keep it simple with easy to implement tips – so here are my top ten tips to lift your spirits and keep you going as the seasons shift!

ONE: Move Your Body

Movement and/or exercise are so important for both our physical and our mental health because our bodies and our minds are intimately connected. Movement can be an emotional release and helps move stagnant energy in our bodies which makes us feel more “alive” and motivated to get shiz done throughout the rest of the day. Sometimes it just feels too difficult to have a “glass half full” mentality when everything seems to be going wrong, or you feel like your positive attitude isn’t getting you anywhere – this is when movement can really help.

If you’re a morning exercise person know getting out of your warm bed in the morning when the weather cools off can seem next to impossible – the thought of jumping into a warm shower can sometimes seem like the only way to convince yourself to get up and at ’em. Try counting down from 5 to 1 (5, 4, 3, 2, 1) and without giving it a second thought, get up and put your workout clothes on (or sleep in them). Those feel-good endorphins will warm you up in no time. Morning is a great time to workout because it tends to put a pep in your step for the rest of the day.

Movement can be simple. You don’t have to have a gym membership or do a hardcore high intensity workout for an hour to reap the benefits. It can be as simple as a short walk, yoga, stretching, or even dancing. Try a youtube video if you don’t feel up to leaving the house – the options on there are endless.

If you’re not working out at all, the fall season is a great time to start to keep you motivated and on top of your game as the days get shorter, darker, and colder. If you do have a consistent workout routine, yay for you! Keep it up, or try something new! Sometimes this time of year makes us feel a bit stuck, trying a new form of movement (like a new workout class) even just once a week in combination with your tried and true routine can keep things spicy.

TWO: Get Outside

I’m a summer girl through and through. I prefer to hibernate (or “cocoon”) during the winter months. I do think winter is pretty, but I’m not a fan of the cold. Pushing myself to think of the cold air as “refreshing” and reminding myself that it truly makes me feel alive is a helpful mindset shift that allows me to push past the idea of the cooler air and get outdoors, but why do I bother?

Even just for a few minutes at least once a day, fresh air and sunshine can work wonders for our mental health. While your outside take some deep breaths in and out through your nose. Really embrace the fresh air – look around and take in your surroundings. Notice the title things. Being outdoors can be so grounding and can help connect us to nature. Plus, the sunshine has vitamin D which we need, especially in the winter (but more on that in #10)!

I find it especially important to get outdoors if you’re sitting at a desk all day because it really helps to regroup and just get out of your “zone”.

Don’t forget to bundle up – it’s harder to enjoy the great outdoors if you aren’t properly dressed for the elements!

THREE: Prioritize Sleep

Ever notice that when you fall behind on your sleep for a few nights in a row that everything else seems to start to slide as well? You’re more irritable, you aren’t prioritizing your health and wellness as much as you usually do, you aren’t feeling as productive at work – shall I go on? I think you get the picture. Does this resonate?

I’m a sleeper. I know myself well and I’ve decided to accept that. We all need different amounts of sleep to function optimally, but on average 7-9 hours is a good window for most people. I’m a solid 7.5-8.5 hours a night girl if I want optimal rest. I also tend to need more sleep in the winter months (aka half the year – yikes).

It’s really helpful to try to get to sleep and wake up around the same time every night. This helps to balance out our circadian rhythm. I aim to be winding down by 9:45 and in bed or asleep by 10:30 or 11:00 at the latest. This is just an example and I recommend finding a schedule that is realistic for your lifestyle and works best for you, because everyone is different!

Personally, I find if I go to bed past midnight I don’t feel as rested the next morning. This is the case even if I sleep in. I feel more rested going to bed before 11 and getting 7 hours sleep than I do when I go to bed at midnight (or later) and get 9 hours. I just find that personally I can’t get into that REM sleep the same as I do if I go to bed before midnight. In saying this, I encourage you to really take note of your sleep patterns and see what you can do to improve. Take note when you have a good sleep and when you don’t and see if there are factors affecting your sleep that you can adjust.

I know some of this is much easier said than done. Most of us have a lot on our plates and sleep can be hard to prioritize – there never seem to be enough hours in the day. Then there are those of us who really try to prioritize sleep, but it takes hours to fall asleep or we’re tossing and turning all night and can’t seem to ever get a good nights rest – been there done that (for years). If this sounds like you I highly recommend seeing a holistic practitioner who can help you through this with a natural approach.

Without proper rest we can’t show up as our best selves for ourselves and the ones we love most. Do what you can to make sleep a priority in your life. Turn off your electronics at least an hour before bed, create some sort of bedtime routine (this can be super basic a short or longer and elaborate). Do what you need to do to wind down, and hop in bed. You can thank me later.

FOUR: Set a Small Goal

Have some fun with this one. Take some time to reflect on a small goal that you want to achieve (optional: set a *realistic* timeframe to achieve said goal). Once you have a goal in mind, set aside time to work towards it each day. No, I’m not saying you need to find an hour a day from your already hectic and packed schedule. Take 5 minutes – start there and see where it goes. Even if you never spend more than 5-10 minutes on this goal, you will still eventually reach it. Once you start finding 5 minutes per day it’s likely that you will be able to find another 5 minutes, and then maybe another 5 minutes. I feels really good to be working towards completing a goal and before you know it you’ll reach your goal and be looking forward to setting the next one!

You can start really small. Maybe you decide that you want to read a book because you haven’t read one from cover to cover in a few years. Set aside 5 minutes per day and before you know it the book will be finished and you’ll be heading to Indigo to buy another! Maybe you want to set a larger goal of running a marathon, but you aren’t a runner. This is where the “small goal” comes in. You can have a larger goal in mind that your smaller goal will work towards. If you aren’t a runner and want to run a marathon some day then you need to start somewhere. Doing a walk for one minute, run for one minute for 10-15 minutes per day will get you started. Once you feel comfortable with that goal you can set another small running goal and keep building up and up from there.

The sky is the limit with this one so get creative.

I find this a really helpful exercise because it keeps you motivated. It also feels really great when you reach those small goals and get to set another. It’s rewarding to hold yourself accountable to something and follow through.

FIVE: Something To Look Forward To

Ever notice that when you have an exciting trip coming up that you get excited and it keeps you going on those harder days? Well we don’t have to was it for something big like a trip to get excited or to get us through some of the tougher days. Think small and if something bigger comes up, great!

I like to break it down so I have something to look forward to daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. I know this might sound a bit intimidating at first, but trust me, it’s really not and it’s such a game changer when you implement it!

Daily: this can be something as simple as your morning coffee/tea/latte, etc. It could be lunch with a friend, picking your kids up from school, making your favourite meal for dinner, a special treat you packed in your lunch, a call to a friend. You get this picture. Find moments in your day to day that you can look forward to – little things that bring you joy. Celebrating the little things creates an attitude of gratitude.

Weekly: Maybe once a week you get together with your best friends for a walk or a meal. Maybe you visit your parents. Maybe you go to church every Sunday. Hey, maybe you’re like me and love the grocery store! Maybe you hit up your favourite yoga class on Saturday mornings.

Monthly: Maybe you have one Saturday off a month and you go to the farmers market. Maybe you see a movie once a month in the theatres. Maybe it’s your birthday this month. Maybe there’s a special holiday you look forward to – Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, NYE, Valentines Days, etc.

Yearly: Sometimes these are bigger events – maybe this is where your exciting trip comes into play. Maybe you’re getting married or in a best friends wedding. Maybe you are up for a promotion this year. Maybe you are getting a new pet or maybe you’re finally running that marathon.

Plan something that you get look forward to keep your spirit and motivation levels HIGH! ⁣I promise this works like a charm, makes you appreciate the little things, and keeps you going on those harder days!

SIX: Be Kind To Yourself

This is important. This is important. I had to say that twice just incase you didn’t hear me the first time!

If you aren’t feeling motivated and you choose to watch Netflix instead of being productive or working on your to-do list that’s 100% ok – embrace that time. Enjoy your show/movie and then move on (but not to the next episode, with your life 😉). Don’t beat yourself up for not being productive 100% of the time. Sometimes the most productive thing is to take care of ourselves. There are so many forms of self care – Netflix arguably isn’t one of them (I hate to be the bearer of bad news), but I do think it’s healthy to indulge ourselves and check-out for a little bit once and a while as well.

Self-compassion can sometimes be difficult to practice. Being honest and gentle with ourselves when we’re having a tough day is key. Let yourself take a moment if you need to, have a cry if you need to, have a chat with someone you trust – just do whatever you need to do and accept that it’s ok to have an off day/week/month. It happens to all of us from time to time.

The same advice goes for if we mess up or feel inadequate. We need to learn to be patient with ourselves and not place too much pressure on fitting into a box – a box that we’ve designed for ourselves, or one that others have tried to put us in.

We practice kindness and compassion with those around us, but it’s equally important to give ourselves the same respect. We don’t need to be perfect (we never will be), but practicing self-acceptance and self love instead of judging and criticizing ourselves will make such a difference in our wellbeing.

SEVEN: Love On Yourself A Little Extra

Whatever that means to you. This ties in to number six. For me giving myself a little extra love means things like:

  • Reading
  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • Comforting foods
  • Baking
  • Special warming drinks
  • Pampering: bath, face mask, etc.
  • Time outside
  • Exercise

EIGHT: Spend Quality Time With Loved Ones

This one really speaks for itself. It’s easily to accidentally isolate ourselves in the colder months because motivation to leave the house and socialize can get to an all time low.

Surrounding ourselves with those that we love and those who love us is truly so powerful. Our loved ones lift us up. We need their support and they need ours.

While it’s also healthy to spend time alone, spending time with people we care about can be refreshing and uplifting – especially when we’re having a tough time.

Even though quality time is my top love language, I don’t think this one just applies to people like me. Focus on nurturing the important relationships in your life – it’ll be rewarding.

NINE: Eat Warming Foods

When we’re feeling down we often end up craving carb-y comfort foods because carbs release serotonin which affects our mood. While carb-y meals are great (and we shouldn’t cut them out!), when I say “warming foods” I don’t just mean carb-y comfort foods.

Think comforting oatmeal bowls, delicious roasted veggies, veggie pastas, yummy soups and CURRIES! Honestly, the options are endless and it’s easy to make sure you’re still getting lots of veggies even if you aren’t eating raw salads. There’s nothing wrong with raw leafy greens and veggies, but in the winter our bodies love when we nourish them with warming cooked foods.

You don’t have to ditch the chips and carb-y meals, but just be sure to include lots of veggies and try to pick healthier options when you can!

TEN: Supplement With Vitamin D

Also known as the “sunshine vitamin”. Among many other benefits, Vitamin D is a natural mood booster. As we age, our bodies are more likely to struggle to produce a healthy amount of vitamin D so it can be extra important in the later stages of your life. Also, fun fact: people with darker skin typically have lower levels of Vitamin D than people that are lighter-skinned.⁣

It can be tough to get outside and catch a healthy dose of sunshine in the winter time and even when we do get outside we are all bundled up! For maximum absorbption of Vitamin D from the sun you ideally want to have a lot of skin showing (i.e. being in a bathing suit at the beach in the summer or being outside in a tank top and shorts). It’s still great to get outside and soak up the sun on your face (don’t forget your sunscreen!!) in the winter.

If you follow a plant-based diet there are not many foods (unless fortified) that naturally have vitamin D. Getting a test done to check your levels is always a good diet before supplementing because there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing”, but unfortunately a lot of people are actually vitamin D deficient so making sure you are getting enough vitamin D is crucial (especially in the cooler months!).

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