Have the winter blues got you down? Seasonal affective disorder affects about 1%-2% of the population, and milder forms may affect as much as 20%. This mental health condition occurs at the same time each year and can take a toll on every aspect of your life, from work to relationships to your sense of self-worth.
The good news is that, like other forms of depression, SAD is treatable — and there are plenty of steps you can take to help yourself feel better. Here are five simple ways to take care of your mental health so you can break through the gloom and actually enjoy the season.
One of the best ways to take care of your mental health during winter is to move your body — and move it often. Getting your blood pumping improves mental health by reducing anxiety and depression and boosting self-esteem and cognitive function. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, which is why you tend to feel happier and less stressed right after working out.
So get up and get moving. Do something you love, whether it be yoga, boxing or cycling. Even a brisk stroll around the block can do wonders for your concentration, motivation and mood. Pencil it into your schedule to develop a routine that’ll keep you healthy and happy all winter long.
The mouth is the doorway to the rest of the body, including your heart and brain. It’s no surprise, then, that those with poor hygiene also tend to suffer a slew of illnesses — both physical and mental. At the same time, people with mental health conditions like depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder may struggle to prioritize their dental care. Ultimately, their negligence will only exacerbate this cycle of poor mental health and oral hygiene.
That’s why it’s so important to brush and floss daily. Get a professional cleaning twice a year and pay attention to how your smile makes you feel. If you’re really taking care of your teeth, all your hard work should pay off, and you’ll be showing off those pearly whites every chance you get. That doesn’t leave much time for frowning, does it?
As the days grow shorter and the nights get longer, it becomes all too easy to sink into the couch and binge-watch your favorite shows every evening. What if you broke the mold and did something different this season? Get yourself out of the Netflix rut and give your brain a boost by trying a new hobby.
Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to knit. What better time to make your own blankets and sweaters than winter? Is photography more your thing? Try capturing the winter wonderland right outside your door. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something you enjoy. Otherwise, the activity will create stress rather than relieve it.
Time and again, research shows that you feel better physically and mentally when you have strong family connections. Spending time with loved ones reinforces this feeling and minimizes conditions like loneliness and depression. Thus, connecting with friends and family during the winter months might be a great way to take care of yourself — and cheer up others, too.
Catch up over coffee, plan play dates with the kids or schedule regular video chat so you have something to look forward to. Even a quick phone call or text can often be enough to boost your mood and turn that frown upside down.
If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your thoughts and feelings with loved ones, find someone else to talk things out with. Maybe there’s a local support group for those with SAD or monthly gatherings that focus on destigmatizing mental health. You might have to step outside your comfort zone at first, but sharing your story with others can be incredibly therapeutic and remind you that you’re not alone.
If you can’t find a group you can relate to, try therapy. Many online services offer free trials so you can figure out what’s right for you without breaking the bank.
You don’t need a master plan or 30-step checklist to beat the winter blues. All you need is a few good habits to carry you through. Start small and incorporate activities you enjoy into your daily routine. In turn, you’ll adopt a healthier lifestyle that supports your mental and physical health so you feel good all year.
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