With the end of daylight saving time comes shorter days, less sunshine, and chilly weather. And while there’s something so cozy and comforting about the fall and winter months (thanks to festive lattes, fall-flavored snacks, and all things pumpkin), seasonal changes can also impact our mood and well-being. To keep the winter blues away, it’s essential to pay attention to our mental health and take proactive measures to support our mind and body as we head into these darker days.
The good news is that there are several ways to practice more seasonally-specific self-care. These easy-to-implement tips will help counter the effects of less daylight (and less vitamin D) from the sun, and support our overall well-being during colder weather.
Feeling SAD? What to Know About Seasonal Affective Disorder
Before we dive into self-care tips, it’s important to bring awareness to the topic of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a condition that affects many individuals during specific times of the year, especially in the fall and winter months. Linked to the changes in reduced light exposure that disturb our circadian rhythm, individuals with SAD may experience changes in mood, sleep, appetite, and energy. While there are many natural ways to combat SAD, this condition deserves attention and treatment from your doctor. If you’re feeling more down than usual this winter, reach out to your primary care doctor or another mental health professional.
As for preventative measures, here are some steps we can all take to help stay on top of our health habits all season long!
How to Support Your Mental Health During Colder Weather
Ahead, some easy-to-implement self-care hacks to help support mental health during colder weather, the holiday season, and really any other time of the year.
#1 Create a Fall & Winter Exercise Routine
Staying active throughout this season is a must. But we get it, when it’s cold and dark outside, sometimes skipping your workout for an extra hour of sleep or a cozy movie night sounds like a much better option. When motivation is lacking, try to remember the much-needed mood boost (and strong and healthy body) that accompanies a good sweat.
If you’re feeling uninspired, try something new this season! Here are some workouts to consider:
The important thing is to find something that makes you feel good! Maybe it’s mood-boosting yoga or super sweaty kickboxing class. Dance is a proven way to increase your feel-good brain chemicals like serotonin, which can take a hit in the winter months.
#2 Start Your Meditation Practice
Why wait until the New Year to get started with your meditation practice? Get started now and preemptively support your mental health during colder weather.
While it can feel intimidating to get started, know that there’s no right or wrong way to meditate! Proven to improve mood, reduce stress, benefit sleep, and support our nervous system, meditation is one of the best tools to call on whenever you need a mental health reset. The best part is that this tactic is free and takes as little as five minutes to get started.
Stress aside, meditation can support whatever you’re feeling, whether it’s overwhelm, sadness, anxiety, or loneliness. Best of all, there are so many types to choose from! Maybe it’s a yoga nidra meditation, walking meditation, or simply breathing in silence.
Not sure where to start? Here are some FitOn meditations with DeAndre Sinette to help you ease your mind and calm your body.
#3 Become a Sleep Pro
Sleep has become a challenge for so many people. In fact, statistics show that 50-70 million people are sleep-deprived! Considering how vital sleep is for both our mental and physical health, it’s time to change that. Now’s the time to become a total pro at all things sleep.
This is extra important during the winter months, as our circadian rhythms get thrown for a loop with the darkening of days and shift away from Daylight Saving Time.
Meaning, it’s time to support great sleep habits with some of the following tips:
- Set a bedtime, and stick to it
- Wake up at the same time each day
- Unplug for at least an hour before bedtime
- Have a bedtime routine
- Get some light exposure within an hour of waking, if you can
Be vigorous about getting enough sleep and getting good quality sleep. Make this your number one priority, and you may see an improvement in your mood and your ability to do everything else on this list. You can even challenge yourself to our 14-Day Sleep Challenge!
#4 Enjoy “Good Mood Foods”
When we think of “good mood foods,” our mind often envisions comfort foods that aren’t always the healthiest. However, did you know that there are an abundance of nutrient-dense options that are science-backed to support health and boost mood — especially during the winter months?
Many dietitians recommend eating seasonally to capitalize on the most nutrient-dense produce possible. This includes healthy fall options such as Brussels sprouts, leeks, sweet potatoes, winter squash, apples, and pears. Not to mention, all the cold weather superfoods like elderberry, pomegranate, beets, and ginger!
You can also try warming foods (a tactic used in Traditional Chinese Medicine) — both warm in temperature and warm in effect! Spices like cayenne and cinnamon can actually raise your body’s temperature (helping boost metabolism, reduce inflammation, and support circulation), even if they’re not consumed in a warm food. And, of course, a hot bowl of immune-boosting soup is always comforting on a chilly winter day.
As for the nutrients known to support mood and mental health, here are some to prioritize:
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Found in foods like salmon, flax, and chia seeds, consider adding more omega-3-rich foods to your diet this winter.
- Zinc: This mineral is linked to mood-regulating neurotransmitters like GABA and glutamate, and can be found in foods like pumpkin seeds, oysters, and unsweetened dark chocolate!
- Antioxidants: Load up on antioxidants like berries and dark leafy greens this winter. Add them to your smoothie, use them in warm salads or side dishes, or sneak them into baked goods!
#5 Establish a Social Support Network
Part of your mental health hygiene includes your social life and staying connected to loved ones. Our relationships have such a significant impact on our health, and winter can leave us feeling particularly lonely. So get ahead of the game, and try to pack your calendar with some good social engagements that feel spiritually and emotionally nourishing.
#6 Try Setting Micro Habits
To get started with your journey to actively tackle the stressors and challenges life throws at you this winter, begin establishing ‘micro habits’ to include in your morning or evening routine. Something as simple as journaling for three to five minutes in the morning, reflecting on your feelings (the good and the bad), and repeating it at the end of the day.
Some other ideas:
- Challenge yourself to do a five-minute meditation in the AM and 15 minutes before bed.
- Make one small healthy swap in your diet.
- Go to bed a half-hour earlier (an hour earlier if possible!)
- Add in an extra 5-10 minute FitOn burner to your workout schedule.
Start small with your micro habits and work your way up! Find what works for you with the tactics you choose — the trick here is to be active and consistent. Life’s challenges never stop, so our management strategies shouldn’t either.
Ready to crush your goals? Try our 14-Day Motivation Challenge. Not only will it help muster up your motivation, but it will also help you get clear on your goals and support your mental health.
There Are Lots of Ways to Bust Through That Winter Funk
While self-care is important year-round, we all could use an added dose during the cool winter months. Consider a blend of all of the above tips to add to your daily routine, and as we always say, find what works for you! Everyone is going to click with something a little different, so make sure to dabble a bit with each of these.