The darker, colder months of winter can get you down. The holidays are over, the days are short and dark, and the weather can be miserable. Whether it’s winter-induced SAD (seasonal affective disorder) or simply a case of the “winter blues,” winter can trigger a change in your mental state. Some people – especially seniors – may notice changes in sleeping habits (most commonly oversleeping), lethargy or lack of energy, and loss of interest in socializing and other activities. Being aware of changes in your mood is a big step to getting yourself through the “winter blues.” Here are some tips to get you through until spring gets here.
Don’t let colder weather interrupt your exercise routine. Physical exercise is a great way to keep your mood up. If ice, snow, or freezing temperatures are keeping you from getting outdoor exercise, find somewhere indoors to walk instead. Many malls open early just for walkers. Your local rec center may have an indoor track or exercise classes. Many facilities offer lower-impact classes just for seniors.
Get out and socialize
It’s easy to isolate yourself in the winter, but don’t let this happen too much if you’re feeling down. Call a friend and get together or find new friends by joining a club or taking a class. Check your area’s senior center for activities. Some universities and libraries offer classes for seniors at low or no cost. You can socialize and learn something new!
When weather permits, try to get outside. Many researchers think the decline in daylight during the winter months can affect our circadian rhythm and cause hormonal changes that affect our mental health. Increasing the amount of light you are exposed to can help. Natural daylight is the easiest and least expensive way to increase your light exposure, but an indoor light box can also help. Light boxes are designed to simulate the effects of natural sunlight. If you are considering investing in a light box, check with your doctor about how to use one effectively and safely.
Cold winter weather may trigger a desire for comfort foods but indulging in these may contribute to the “winter blues.” Instead, try to limit carbohydrates and increase your intake of lean protein and vegetables. The lack of sunlight exposure in the winter can also lead to a vitamin D deficiency, so be on the lookout for foods that are high in this vitamin: foods like beef liver, egg yolks, cheeses, and salmon. Also look for foods like milk and yogurt fortified with vitamin D. You may want to take a vitamin D supplement, but before taking any new supplements or over-the-counter treatments, consult with your doctor about any possible interactions with your current medication.
We all know sleep is essential for mental health, but in the winter, it’s tempting to sleep too much. Try to get about eight to nine hours of sleep, and don’t let winter turn you into a night owl. Get up at 7 or 8 a.m. to take advantage of daylight hours. If dark mornings mean you’re having trouble getting up that early, consider a dawn simulator. Similar to a light box, a dawn simulator is a device that simulates the rising sun, taking about 30 to 45 minutes to gradually light your bedroom. This can help your circadian rhythm and improve your mood.
Remember that if you or a loved one’s “winter blues” seem to be hanging around longer than a week or two, it may be time to talk to a doctor about SAD. Just like other types of depression, SAD can be treated with medication. But in the meantime, to beat those blues, try to get outdoors, eat right, and remember that spring is just around the corner!