Last Saturday most people around the country set their clocks back one hour. Here in Massachusetts it will start getting dark at about 5pm. Many people dread the disappearing daylight and the five months of cold, dark days that will follow. At Northern latitudes many people experience a lower mood, irritability, decreased energy, and changes in appetite, starting around now and lasting until spring.
If you find that your mood bottoms out when the days get shorter, here a several strategies to boost your spirits through the fall and winter:
- Make your seasonal mood-boosting plan now, including light, exercise, social contact and constructive attitude adjustment. Get to know what works best for you and build it into your life. For instance, some people find a mid-winter trip to a sunny climate helps them make it through the season. Others find their salvation on the ski slopes or at the gym, or in coming together with friends and family.
- Let there be light! Getting exposure to sunlight can be a powerful way to boost your mood. In fact, on a sunny day, the brightness outdoors is many times greater than the light emitted from a high intensity light fixture. If you can go out for a walk when the sun is out, put on your overcoat and get outside. Don’t be daunted by the cold, but do be careful in sub-zero temperatures to protect yourself from frostbite.
- If you can’t get outdoor light, consider a high intensity indoor light fixture. Thirty minutes of exposure a day has been found to be effective for most people who suffer from low moods in the fall and winter.
- Get moving! Boosting your exercise in the winter can provide a powerful lift to your mood and your energy. If your climate or job makes it difficult to get outside during the day, find ways to work out at home or the gym.
- Eat for energy throughout the fall and winter, combining protein and complex carbohydrates. Limit your consumption of alcohol, sugar and high fat foods, all of which may temporarily lift your mood and then leave you feeling tired soon after.
- Change your thoughts. Learning to think less negatively will help improve your mood. If you notice yourself feeling less peppy or enthusiastic during the winter, you can accept that feeling as a normal response to the dark and cold of winter without getting down on yourself about it. You can also respond to negative thoughts like “I hate winter”, “I can’t deal with this”, or “Winter is never going to end” with “I know what to do to feel better”, and “Winter is a challenge and I become stronger by meeting the challenge”.
- Reach out. When the outer world is colder and darker, your connections with friends and family offer love, warmth and stimulation.
- Reach in. Your inner life can be a source of strength and inspiration when the forces of nature lie dormant. Prayer, meditation, and inspirational reading provide inner light that can illuminate your journey through the darker days of fall and winter.
- If you are experiencing seasonal depression that is impairing your ability to function, or if you have had a pattern of serious recurrent seasonal depression, consult with a psychiatrist, psychologist, clinical social worker or mental health counselor who has experience with seasonal affective disorder.
Jeff Rossman, Ph.D.
Director of Life Management at Canyon Ranch in Lenox