When many are already experiencing increased isolation, the winter season might feel daunting with more time inside and less sunlight.
Matthew Holve, MD, a psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente Fairfield, shares creative tips on how to lift your spirits and stay motivated. Whether you dread or love winter, get advice on how to boost your mental and physical wellness.
Feeling Down Vs. Seasonal Affective Disorder
First, it’s important to understand the difference between feeling sad and having Seasonal Affective Disorder, clinical depression, or anxiety. It’s common to feel a bit down or unmotivated during the darker winter season. It’s when these feelings interfere with your ability to do everyday activities that you should seek help.
“A mental health disorder is when you experience functional impairment,” Dr. Holve said. “If you start to see significant changes in your sleep, appetite, attention, or your ability to work, medical attention is needed.”
For those who tend to exhibit sad or depressed feelings annually this time of year, Dr. Holve said “embrace it” and takes steps, such as those listed below, to manage it.
Glass Half Full
With holiday festivities and family gatherings recommended against, it’s important to look on the bright side and not focus on what you are missing.
“There’s evidence that practicing gratitude increases happiness,” Dr. Holve said. “People who appreciate the good in their lives begin to perceive situations positively instead of as a loss.”
Express thankfulness to others or journal your appreciations, practice kindness, and try to find positivity in the challenges you face.
It’s the buzz word of the times, but self-care can be very effective at alleviating negative thinking and elevating mood. Dr. Holve recommends carving out time daily to do something you love, but do it intentionally.
“Don’t think about your relaxation as wasted time,” he said. “Instead, dedicate time to relaxing or doing an activity you like and enjoy it.”
Be Social, Virtually
Finding meaningful ways to connect while physically distancing is highly valuable. Reach out to friends and family, leverage technology to see each other’s faces and interact, and be an active listener.
Supporting others, making connections, and having a laugh can give you a sense of purpose and spark joy.
Exercise is a given when improving mental health, but don’t take on a New Year’s resolution approach. Start with small, practical goals. For beginners, shoot for a few short walks a week, or take the stairs instead of the elevator during outings. If successful at this, then move onto more ambitious goals. Unrealistic expectations are a formula for failure which can lead to negative associations with exercise.
This is also true when beginning a new hobby. Dr. Holve said even dedicating 5 minutes a day to a new activity is a great start.
All the tips above are meant to help improve your mental health, which should be a top priority this winter season with more dark, cold, and possibly isolated months to go, said Dr. Holve.
“Good mental health can influence your outlook on every aspect of life and result in more rewarding experiences.”