My best tips and tricks for avoiding seasonal affective disorder including how to optimize your diet, lifestyle and environment in the winter months to help feel your best.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) impacts more than 3 million people each year — I’m guessing most of these people live in the midwest like I do because it’s tough out here! We have four if not five months of cold temps, little to no sun and very grey skies.
When it feels like there’s been weeks without sunshine and like I’ve been stuck at home, I know my general mood takes a hit too. Last year I felt the effects of SAD well into April and know how difficult it can be to get yourself out of that kind of winter funk.
The good news is there are little things we can do to help ourselves feel good even when it’s super blah outside (actually making sure to do them is the hardest part!).
This list is made up of diet, lifestyle and environmental tweaks we can do in the winter to brighten our mood. I can them my “winter non-negotiables” and I know by doing as many of these as I can on a daily basis I’ll have more energy, be in a better mood, and make the most of being mostly inside this time of year.
Get Dressed Every Day
Speaking from experience, I know how easy it can be to stay in pajamas or sweats all day when working from home. I also know I’m 10X as productive and in a better mood when I put real clothes on for the day. It sets the tone which is especially important in the winter when dark, cold and dreary.
If you need a little extra push to make sure put real clothes on lay them out the night before or habit stack getting dressed with another part of your morning routine. Since you’re already always going to brush your teeth can you get dressed before or after? Connect the habit you want to start doing to one you already do!
Put Your Face On
I know for me putting a little bit of makeup on can do wonders for helping me feel more like myself on winter days when I’m just feeling off. I make this a priority even if I’m not going anywhere or seeing anyone (it’s just for me after all!). Getting dressed and wearing makeup are acts of self love that help you feel your best.
Here are a few of my winter skin care favorites:
Don’t Go Too Long In Between Meals & Snacks
Always feel low energy in the afternoons especially in the winter? It could be because you’re going too long in between meals. When our blood sugar dips, so do our energy levels. To keep the good energy flowing especially in the winter when the days are short and darker, make sure your nourishing your body with nutrient dense meals and snacks and not going longer than 4 hours without eating something.
Consider a Sunlight Lamp
At times here in Chicago we can go a solid week if not more of no sun. If you’re like me and feel your mood taking a hit when this happens, consider a sunlight lamp to use at home on days when there’s no sun. Sure, it won’t have exactly the same impact as natural sunlight, but I’m willing to try anything to prevent seasonal effective disorder.
Besides messing with our mood, a lack of sun can mess with our circadian rhythm which helps with our sleep-wake cycle. On days when there is sun in the winter be sure to get outside in the morning to help support energy levels, mood and your circadian rhythm.
Get Your Vitamin D Status Checked
Feeling tiredness and fatigue are normal when there’s no sunlight and the weather is dreary and cold. However if you’re experiencing extreme fatigue to the point where you’re finding it hard to do things in your daily life, something could be up. Many of us in the midwest are prone to low vitamin D in the winter months because we’re not getting nearly enough sunlight exposure.
Before starting to take any supplement, I would recommend seeing your doctor for a blood test to check your vitamin and mineral status. If it turns out you are low and you need to supplement vitamin D, look for liquid vitamin D3 + K2 that is has been 3rd party tested for quality.
Read more about nutrients to include in your diet in the winter and what foods contain them.
Incorporate Omega 3’s in Your Diet
Diets high in omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to lower rates of depression. Omega-3 fatty acids travel through the brain cell membrane and interact with mood-related molecules inside the brain. They also have anti-inflammatory actions that may help relieve depression.
Focusing on incorporating them in your diet is a good idea year-round because of their anti-inflammatory benefits and I like to especially make sure I’m getting enough in the winter to help support my mood.
Food sources of omega-3 fatty acids:
- Flax Seed
- Cod Liver Oil
- Chia Seeds
Get Some Movement In
It’s truly amazing how just 10 minutes of physical activity can completely change your mood. On grey days it can be super hard to motivate yourself to workout, but I always remind myself of how good I’m going to feel afterwards. Safe to say I’m always in a better mood after a workout which is why it’s so important to me to keep the movement up especially in the winter.
If you’re looking for something new to do, I love The Sculpt Society workouts for something I can do in my living room that is challenging, positive and fun!
Plan One Fun Thing To Look Forward To Every Week
Having something on the calendar each week can help the winter weeks go by a little bit quicker. It can be something like a Facetime chat, a dinner date, a visit to a new coffee shop or museum or whatever you need that week to look forward to. Do the thing you’ve been wanting to do for a while now but haven’t done yet.
Start a Gratitude Practice
When it feels like everything is “blah” we have to remind ourselves of everything we have to be thankful for. Exercising your gratitude muscle daily will help in moments when it feels hard to feel happy and thankful.
As part of your morning routine or before bed write down three things you’re grateful for. It’s amazing how this practice can transform your outlook on life in any season.
Reframe Your Perspective on Staying Inside
One thing that helps me when I feel stuck inside is reframing that mindset into one that’s a bit more productive. Instead of feeling bad because I’m stuck inside I ask myself how I can use this winter time to do inside projects that I’ve been putting off.
Things like cleaning out my closet, organizing a drawer or redecorating a little area of the house. When I start focusing on everything I can do inside not only am I improving my environment and making it more cozy for the winter, but I also feel more productive and like I’m not missing out because I have to stay inside.
Consider Cutting Alcohol
Sure a glass of red wine on a cozy winter night sounds perfect but cutting alcohol out in the winter months might be a good idea for those of us who are especially prone to bad hangovers and or experience feelings of anxiety.
The vicious cycle that can occur when we’re hungover, not feeling well and not in the mood to do anything can exacerbate seasonal depression symptoms like fatigue, anxiety, sadness and loneliness making it all feel even worse.
I’m currently doing dry January and I have to say I think it’s having a really positive impact on my mood. Sometimes just two glasses of wine is all it takes to bring about feelings of hangxiety the next day and I’m really loving not having those feelings at all!
Incorporate Protein & Fiber at Every Meal
Naked carbs (think something like a plain piece of white bread) won’t really keep you full for that long and will spike your blood sugar causing it to drop and you to feel hungry, low energy, and irritable.
Making sure you incorporate a source of protein and fiber at every eating occasion (think avocado + egg on toast or orange slices + almonds will help you feel fuller for longer, keep you blood sugar stable and help prevent that irritable mood that ensues when we’re feeling hungry.
Incorporate Mini Moments of Self Care
Sometimes self-care activities can feel like big, expensive things that we have to wait for just the right time to do. Instead of waiting until you’re burned out and exhausted to take some time for yourself make time for mini moments of self care every single day.
Things like painting your nails, taking a long luxurious shower, reading, journaling, coloring or baking — whatever brings you closer to yourself. and makes you feel good. Aim for at least one mini moment of self care a day during the winter season.
Dance to Throwback Jams
Nothing puts me in a better mood than listening to music I loved back in the day. I grew up listening to a lot of 80s and 90s music because of my older sisters and hearing certain songs from those decades make me so happy.
Find a playlist on Spotify to pump up the jams when you’re cleaning, driving, or just feeling a little blah and need a pick me up this winter.
Get a House Plant
Research shows house plants are good for our health helping to promote relaxation, purifying the air and making our environment feel cozy. Hit up your local plant store or buy yourself flowers on your next grocery trip to brighten up your environment and bring a little calm from the outside in.
And be sure to check out these recipes to help brighten up your winter: