Is the Time Change Affecting Your Mood? Helpful Tips to Beat the Winter Doldrums.
Does the time change each fall get you down? Let’s explore some tips to combat those darker day doldrums and find joy in the season.
Last week it was time to change the old clocks back an hour. Everyone gets to celebrate that one extra hour of sleep or time spent at their favorite hotspot.
Flash forward to the next day, and the early nightfall can hit you like a ton of bricks. It felt like that one-hour turn back of the clock darkened the skyline three hours earlier than the night before.
I have always been moderately affected by the seasonal loss of daylight. And, while not officially diagnosed, I am sure I suffer a mild case of S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder). The darker evenings, combined with the challenges of the colder winter weather, are the perfect recipe for the winter doldrums.
I live in New York City, and in a small studio apartment at that. Extended time spent outdoors during spring and summer, away from my studio apartment, is precious to me. During the mild weather seasons, it is not uncommon for me to clock in 3-4 miles of walking every day.
I also have two wonderful Boston Terrier pups that enjoy long walks along the Hudson River during the spring and summer, and playtime with their canine friends at the Pier 81 Dog Park. Even they start to experience cabin fever with the fall time change.
When to seek professional help
I don’t claim to be a clinical psychologist and am in no way qualified to diagnose mental health conditions. If you find your seasonal depression to be ongoing and extreme, and you suffer any of the symptoms listed below, it is advisable to make an appointment with your primary care physician or contact a mental health professional for diagnosis and a treatment plan.
Seek professional help if you experience any of the following:
- If your depressed mood impacts your quality of life or is getting in the way of your professional obligations
- If your depressed mood lasts for more than a couple of days
- If you find yourself wanting to stay in bed and sleep more hours than usual
- If you no longer find joy in the activities that used to make you happy
- If you find yourself withdrawing from social settings more than normal, or you are becoming reclusive and finding excuses to not leave your home or apartment
- If you have an unusual appetite, either refusing to eat or are frequently binging on unhealthy foods
- If you are self-medicating with drugs or alcohol call the Alcohol and Drug Hotline immediately for support at 800-662-4357
- If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts call the Suicide Lifeline at 800-273-8255
If you only experience mild cases of the winter doldrums, and just wish it would be warm and sunny so you can be out-and-about again, below are some ideas to help elevate your mood throughout the season so that you can live the joyful life you deserve!
Let’s explore some tips to deal with the seasonal time change below, and see how you can explore some ways to live each winter day to it’s fullest!
Music – The Gateway to Your Soul
“Like sunshine, music is a powerful force that can instantly and almost chemically changes your entire mood.” – Michael Franti”
Nothing can boost a mood more than listening to some AMAZING and INSPIRATIONAL tunes.
If you are looking for a quick dose of happiness, create a playlist with the most positive songs you can think of and listen to it on your way to and from work.
Songs that make me smile and feel like I can conquer the world.
- See You On The Moon – Great Lake Swimmers
- Shiny Happy People – R.E.M.
- Love Shack – B-52’s
- Joy To The World – Three Dog Night
- Holiday – Madonna
- Raise Your Glass – Pink
- Walking On Sunshine – Katrina & The Waves
- Let’s Get Loud – Jennifer Lopez
- Uptown Funk – Mark Ronson, Bruno Mars
- Celebration – Kool & The Gang
- Girls Just Want To Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper
- Banana Pancakes – Jack Johnson
- Tight Rope – Janelle Monáe
- Start Me Up – The Rolling Stones
- Beautiful Day – U2
- Best Day Of My Life – American Authors
- Beautiful – Christina Aguliera
- Right By Your Side – Eurythmics
- The Shoop Shoop Song – Cher
- Ain’t Nobody – Chaka Khan
Your diet can have a tremendous impact on your mood. Eating sugary comfort foods like bread, doughnuts and cookies can provide a deceptive boost of quick energy, but the results are short-lived. Choose mood-enhancing foods to help elevate your state of mind.
Try to choose foods that are high in antioxidants to enhance brain health, and low on the glycemic index to help reduce blood sugar spikes. These types of foods can help keep your mood swings at bay.
Furthermore, foods that are rich in vitamin C can help reduce cortisol levels, the stress-regulating hormone.
Like most things in life, cortisol is beneficial in moderation. A normal level of cortisol can help your fight-or-flight response during times of crisis. It can also help regulate metabolism, moderate blood sugar levels, and reduce inflammation.
However, if this hormone is not kept at bay it can have a detrimental impact on health . . . and happiness. Elevated levels of cortisol can cause depression, inhibit sleep, and lead to weight gain.
An increased intake of foods rich in vitamin B-12, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D may also help boost your mood.
Whenever possible, try to get your vitamins and minerals from their natural source, rather than a supplement. Vitamins and minerals obtained directly from their source are better absorbed and contain beneficial fiber. Consuming 7-8 servings of fruits or vegetables daily helps manage weight, fight against disease, and have been shown to improve emotional well-being.
Research has shown that increasing your daily consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower lifetime prevalence of depression and anxiety.
Keep On Moving
During the darker winter months, many of us find solace from the harsh cold by retreating indoors. This secluded state and absence of natural sunlight can significantly increase the likelihood of depression. Seeking ways to increase our level of activity during the winter months can significantly elevate mood-boosting endorphins.
According to a 2017 meta-analysis of 49 prospective studies regarding Physical Activity and Incident Depression. The results overwhelmingly supported the relationship between physical activity and the reduced onset of depression, regardless of age.
6 tips to keep you moving during those cold winter months
Join the group
Joining a gym that offers group exercise classes not only helps motivate you to get to the gym, it can also increase social interaction with others. Who knows, you might even meet your new BFF!
When exploring options, try to mix up until you find what is right for you. Many gyms offer a wide variety of group fitness classes each day, so you are bound to find something you love, like Cycling, Zumba, Body Conditioning, Yoga, and Senior Fit. The list goes on . . .
Be one with the water
Indoor swimming is not only an amazing full-body exercise to keep you physically fit, but it also serves as one of the most meditative exercises out there The quiet and calm of the buoyant water gives you meditative time to be at peace with your mind and reflect in the moment. Swimming is also great for your brain health.
Soar on ice
Nothing exemplifies winter like a day at the ice skating rink. Whether you are circling the periphery at the speed of light; performing spirals and axels center-rink, or holding the rail for dear life waiting for the next place to exit . . . a day at the rink can be tons of fun and can provide long-lasting memories with family and friends. Grab a cup of hot chocolate, lace those boots up and get moving!
Get your groove on
Dance is an amazing sport for the cardiovascular system, and there are so many options out there. If you’re looking to showcase your inner Broadway Diva, find a local dance academy and look for a beginner class in jazz, tap, or ballet. If you want a little more spice, find a local ballroom school and Cha-Cha your Rumba off! Or, are you more of a free spirit? Take your disco nap and head off to the local club and freestyle with your besties.
Maneuver the mall
If you are an avid people-watcher, a great way to observe society in action, while getting your heart rate up, is going for a mall walk. This can be done alone, with friends or with a scheduled group. To make sure you get the most out of this activity . . . leave the plastic cards at home. We’re walking, not shopping! J
Join an outdoor walking/running or cycling group
I know, it’s cold out there . . . who wants to exercise outdoors? I promise, once you bundle up and get moving, you won’t even notice the cold. Plus, if you are with a group, you will have so many other fun-filled social distractions that you won’t even notice the cold and you will get some much-needed sun-induced vitamin D!
Practice Mindful Breathing and Focused Meditation
During times of stress, mindful breathing can help reduce anxiety, lower your heart rate, and bring yourself back to a calmer state. However, this type of breathing takes some practice before you can effectively call upon it during stressful real-world situations.
A great place to start is using the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique. If you practice this technique 2-3 times a day for several weeks, it will serve you well when encountered with stressful situations.
It is important to understand that the focus on breathing is more important than counting actual seconds. If you have difficulty holding your breath for 7 seconds, modify this practice as necessary.
4-7-8 Breathing Technique
- Find a comfortable and quiet place to settle in. You can practice this seated, or lying down.
- Take one deep breath in and exhale fully.
- Breathe in quietly through the nose for four seconds.
- Hold your breath for seven seconds.
- Make a forceful exhale through a pursed mouth for eight seconds, making a “whooshing” sound.
- Repeat this sequence four times.
There are multiple methods of meditation; however, focused meditation is one of the easiest to master for a beginner. All it requires is that you clear your mind and place your focus on one thing. It can be a candle, or an object, or a phrase/mantra. The most important thing is for you to give the process time. It can take several attempts to feel comfortable, give yourself permission to not be perfect.
Find 5-minutes of time to sit in a quiet space, with your hands folded in your lap or to your side. This can be done on a chair or the floor. Turn your attention to your object, phrase, or mantra, without “thinking about it.” Simply try to quiet the mind, and if distracting thoughts appear, simply let them go and return to your space of focus.
Come to the light
Light therapy or phototherapy is a therapy used to help manage conditions such as SAD (seasonal affective disorder), depression, disruptive circadian rhythm disorders due to night-shift work, and dementia. While this treatment may not cure the disorder, it can often help to ease the symptoms.
Many factors should be taken into consideration, such as type of light, intensity, duration, and frequency. It is best to consult a medical professional if you think this treatment may be beneficial.
Get a Massage
Anyone who has ever spent time on a massage table knows the euphoria experienced following a blissful relaxation massage. The heated table, the lavender-scented air, the warm oils . . . simply heaven!
Most of today’s society spend much of their time tethered to cell phones and multitasking to keep up with the obligations of daily living. This overstimulation triggers our stress response, aka the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight).
If these stressful conditions continue over time, blood pressure elevates, heart rate races, muscles and joints stiffen, and cortisol levels rise.
Massage can increase the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest), reduce cortisol levels, and increase dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins – the ‘feel-good” neurotransmitters.
In a 2018 article published by Psychology Today, it is stated that “consistent anecdotal evidence, a long history of widespread use of massage for stress reduction, and positive findings of open trials support the view that regular massage therapy reduces the severity of chronic moderate anxiety in general, and specifically when anxiety is related to test-taking or problem-solving, work stress or the anticipation of invasive medical procedures.” – Psychology Today, October 18, 2019
Darker days and colder weather can be a bummer for many, and the severity of symptoms can range from mild to severe. If your mood swings are severe, and it is detrimentally impacting your quality of life, seek professional help.
There are several things that can be done to help manage mild seasonal depression. A healthy diet, full of nutrient-rich foods has tremendous benefits. Try to find fun and engaging activities that keep you moving. Take time to relax through focused breathing and mindful meditation and make sure to pamper yourself with an occasional massage. Other treatments are out there, ask your doctor what treatment is best for you.
Richard A. Lehman, LMT, CSCS
Compliment Your Body, LLC
New York, NY. 10018
Compliment Your Body, LLC has been providing in-home and corporate / event chair massage to New York City and the surrounding boroughs since 2014. Commitment, compassion, connection, and charity are the pillars of our business. We have partnered with Food Bank For New York City through 2020. Three meals will be provided to those in need with every single scheduled in-home or corporate event massage. Visit www.cybnyc.com to schedule your in-home or corporate event massage today. Experience the CYBNYC difference.