Weather has a profound impact on mood, and seasonal depression is common in people of all ages. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older adults are at increased risk of developing depression and are often misdiagnosed or undertreated if they do. If you live in a city or state with long periods of sunless weather in the winter months, you may find your spirits down. However, there are many ways for seniors to combat the winter blues. Here are some simple, yet effective activities to keep your spirits up, even in the darkest of winters.
Life is often busy and filled with obligations. In winter months, life can feel harder and demand more emotional energy than at other times of the year. Negative thoughts easily creep through your mind and manifest as negative feelings.
Meditation teaches you to let go of negative thoughts by a technique of self-observation. Depression is commonly a continuous drag, negativity that pervades each moment. When you take some time for yourself to reflect on your thoughts and feelings, you’ll find that they don’t feel so overwhelming.
If you’ve never meditated before, explore Headspace.com, a guided meditation service that tackles a variety of topics such as anxiety, depression, stress and even sleep.
Don’t Give up Exercise
Exercise affects your mental health as much anything else. In fact, Harvard University conducted a 2005 study of exercise and depression that found 35 minutes of a brisk walk five days a week, or 60 minutes three days a week, combats winter woes like little else.
Winter weather may make walking difficult, and long walks are often hard on aging feet and joints. Choose instead a low impact exercise such as water aerobics, or try Aqua Zumba at your local 24 Hour Fitness. This refreshing form of Zumba is a great workout for your cardiovascular system and promotes body tone.
Increase the Light
Light has a profound impact on mood. Lack of sunlight is one of the reasons winter depression is prevalent in northern latitudes. However, you can simulate sunlight with an artificial light, or light box. Sit next to a light for 30 minutes each day for an improved mood. Also consider asking your adult children to cut back tree branches near your windows and then remember to tie back the curtains during daylight hours. The more light you let into your life, the better you’ll feel.
Friends & Family
Spend time with people you enjoy. Start a tradition where you spend one-on-one time with your grandkids every third Saturday of the month, or host a weekly Sunday brunch with a few of your other retired friends. Whether with friends or family, camaraderie with others will lift your spirits in profound ways. Combine your time with friends with meditation or exercise for an added boost of positive energy. When you spend time with those you love, your immune system also gets a boost, and when you’re healthy you’ll find you feel better emotionally as well.
When it’s cold and slushy in winter months, it’s easy to barricade yourself inside reading a book, watching TV or baking cookies and then eating them. However, when you force yourself outside, you’ll feel more a part of a larger world and not so isolated. Time outdoors provides much needed sunlight and forces interactions with other people in your community, whether you know them or not.
A walk with a friend compounds the effects, as does any outdoor exercise. Your time outside, especially at midday, provides much of the sunlight and vitamin D that boosts your limbic system, the emotional center of your brain and body. Don’t have anyone to walk with? Consider finding or starting a senior meetup group to keep you motivated (and to keep you company!).