Mental health Wellness

Shedding the winter blahs

Written by Monica Matys

Winter can be long, cold and difficult for many people. It’s not unusual to feel sleepier, less energetic and even a bit sad as we work through shorter days and frigid temperatures. Dr. Anthony Levitt, Chief of the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Program at Sunnybrook, says there are many things you can do to elevate your days if you are feeling the effects of winter on your body and mind.

Move it! Even though temperatures are still cold, being physically active will help boost both your energy levels and your mood. Indoor exercise can help a lot, so choose something you enjoy and work it into your regular routine. Aim for 20 minutes of more vigorous activity about 4 times per week. If you are dealing with mobility or health issues, talk to your doctor about the best exercises for you.

Get outside. Even in cold temperatures, a brisk walk or short bursts of activity outside can help you feel better. Dress appropriately for the weather conditions, and choose areas that are free of ice to prevent slipping. Natural outdoor light can be very beneficial for mood and energy. Just be sure to wear sunscreen, even during the winter months.

Set a routine. Maintaining a regular schedule of getting to bed and waking up in the morning can be helpful all year long. Especially during these short days with dark mornings, sticking to a good routine that allows for proper sleep can help you feel energized throughout the day.

Laugh! It’s an easy and natural way to release feel good chemicals and enjoy your day. Even if you only have a few minutes, queue up a funny podcast, read some jokes or reach out to a friend to create the space to smile.

Eat right. While it may be tempting to reach for calorie-rich comfort foods, opt for fresh produce and healthier options instead. These will give you sustained energy throughout the day and help support an overall balanced lifestyle.

Keep friends close. Remember that you’re not the only one feeling the effects of the shorter and darker days of winter. Stay connected to supportive friends and family, as strong social connections will go a long way in keeping spirits high. 

Get busy. Stay engaged in activities you enjoy and that you can continue to do, no matter the weather. Also, setting achievable goals will help you focus on positive things that are within your control, rather than things that are not, like Mother Nature!

Seek help if needed. While many people feel some negative effects during the winter months, a smaller percentage have a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a recurrent form of depression, and it’s believed that reduced exposure to sunlight triggers hormonal changes in the brain that affect mood. Treatments are available, so be sure to reach out to your doctor to determine what’s best for you.

About the author

Monica Matys

Monica Matys is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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