Five Easy Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

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If shortened days and the shift to colder weather seems to drain your energy and make you feel low, you may be experiencing symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. S.A.D is a type of depression that typically comes at the end of fall or early winter and lasts about four to five months each year. Symptoms of S.A.D look like normal depression symptoms: sadness, fatigue, loss of motivation, appetite/weight change, hopelessness, or thoughts of suicide. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms most commonly seen in S.A.D include sleep disturbances, social withdrawal and weight gain. 

At Skyterra Embrace, we know that all all types of depression are important to treat and address because they limit our students ability to live their lives to the fullest. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, S.A.D. is diagnosed four times more often in women than men and is also more likely amoung young people. Because our student’s are often ideal victims for S.A.D, we’ve made it a priority to provide them with the coping skills needed to overcome this mental illness.

Today, we’re sharing with you our top five tips when it comes to beating the winter blues, all actionable steps that we’ve provided to struggling students and things that you yourself can put into place right now.

Tip #1: Exercise early in the day

We already know that exercise not only benefits our physical health, but also our mental health. Almost 90 percent of 1,000+ studies examining exercise and mental health over the past 30 years showed a positive relationship between exercise and mental health. Starting the day with exercise is a trick that people can use to boost their mood while coping with seasonal depression and sadness. When you receive the positive benefits of exercise in the morning, it is likely to last the whole day. 

At Skyterra Embrace, we emphasize early morning exercise. This helps get the students up and moving their bodies. Exercise releases endorphins and endocannabinoids; two classes of brain chemicals that help reduce pain and increase feelings of well being. 

Starting the day with less pain and feeling better overall helps set the stage for a better day. It is so common to want to stay in bed and “hibernate” in the mornings, and even more so when it is cold outside. Early morning workouts also help our students warm up their bodies with intentional movement. And, let’s face it, waking up early can be hard! When students are able to wake up early and complete their workout, they feel successful. This leads to greater focus and confidence, and fewer worries throughout the day. 

Tip #2: Feel the Sunlight on Your Face

There are many kinds of lamps on the market today that promise to combat seasonal affective mood challenges. While there are promising studies for these lights, nothing beats pure sunlight. 

According to one study, exposure to bright lights or sunshine helps our bodies produce cholecalciferol, which the body turns into Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is known to be a contributing factor to depressive symptoms The more sunlight you can get in any of the seasons can help combat symptoms of seasonal mood changes 

Skyterra Embrace is located in a great place to get daily sunlight. Nestled in the mountains of Western North Carolina, the temperature is mild and the sun is usually shining. According to this weather report, Western North Carolina exceeds the average number of sunny days per year. It is a perfect place to get healthy, natural sunlight in the winter months. 

Tip #3: Create a Healthy Sleep Routine to Balance Circadian Rhythms

Sleep is extremely important for mental health. People who struggle with S.A,D often struggle with sleep. A recent study done by Blackwelder et al (2021) found that people who average six hours of sleep or less each night are more than twice as likely to experience mental distress than those who sleep more than six hours. When someone is struggling with S.A.D, it will greatly benefit them to prioritize sleep and to build a healthy sleep routine. Some tips to build a healthy sleep routine include:

  • Warm showers or baths at night
  • Hot chamomile tea
  • Shut down technology one hour before bed
  • Keep your room dark (you shouldn’t be able to see your hand in front of your face)
  • Keep your room cool (about 68 degrees F).

Creating a sleep routine including some or all of the items above can not only make it easier to fall asleep, but it can improve your sleep quality. Make sure to try to do the same routine each night so your body can catch on to the message that it’s time to relax and fall asleep. 

At Skyterra Embrace, our students participate in the same evening routine each night. Our evening huddle includes a review of the day, and what they are looking forward to the next day. The students remain technology free at night, and work with their therapist to establish their own evening routine that works for them. 

Tip #4: Plan fun outings and social gatherings

Often when symptoms of depression or S.A.D hit, one might want to stay in more and go out less, especially when it’s cold outside. However, studies show that attending social events and having a supportive social circle can combat symptoms of depression. 

Meaningful relationships, especially with our loved ones promote feelings of love and belonging. This directly combats the loneliness people often feel with Depression, and S.A.D. 

Although we know our relationships with others can be healing, it is difficult to reach out to friends when feeling down. At Embrace, we encourage students to utilize DBT skills of Opposite Action and Cope Ahead to plan for times that they know they will be lonely. 

At Embrace, we also utilize fun outings and social gatherings as a way to build healing relationships, and to have fun. Yes, part of working through S.A.D is having fun! At Embrace, the students go off campus at least three times a week. They also enjoy a monthly potluck and games with the staff.

Tip #5: Eat the Rainbow

Time and time again we hear about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, but not often in relation to mental and emotional health. Fruits and vegetables contain a wide variety of antioxidants and phytochemicals, giving them their bright, unique colors, which help to fight inflammation, promote healthy gut bacteria, and improve the microbiome. 

In a systematic review, Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Mental Health in Adults, individuals with a high intake of fruits and vegetables saw a significant reduction in psychological suffering and improved mental health outcomes. Although there are many aspects of overall well-being that are greatly improved through dietary patterns, an improved gut microbiome plays a huge factor.

The vagus nerve, connecting the gut to brain, is part of the autonomic nervous system, which regulates physiologic functions such as heart rate, temperature, blood pressure and digestion. Studies suggest a more diverse gut microbiome will improve dysregulated mood and emotional health. Focusing specifically on high-fiber fruits and vegetables and adding a variety of color to your plate can only serve as a benefit to both your physical and mental well-being. 

The culinary and nutrition program at Embrace teaches students the importance of honoring individual nutrition needs while connecting the dots between nutrient density and mental health. Through a rotating menu, emphasizing a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, weekly nutrition education and individual sessions, and culinary demonstrations, students learn the tools to nourish their bodies to support both their overall health.

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