After the hustle and bustle and bright lights of the holiday season come the grey days. While the 31 days in January and the 28/29 days of February may not seem like a long time, the cold, snow, and grey skies can make the time drag, and it can drag you down with it. For some, winter is just another season, but for many of us, this season of the year can wreak havoc on our mental health. Here are a few ideas for how to get through this difficult season, and what to do if the weight of winter is becoming too much for you.
- Exercise. Don’t pressure yourself to lose weight or meet ambitious fitness goals, but find something that gets you moving. Better yet, sign up for a class with a friend. Consider a mommy and me class if solo workout time isn’t an option.
- Get outside! Yes, I know it is cold, but barring frigid temps, a short period outdoors in the fresh air can be refreshing. Hike it Baby Kansas City has hikes throughout the winter months and they can teach you all about how to layer to stay warm. Watch the forecast for the warmer days. We went on a park playdate in January when there was a random day above 50 degrees.
- Plan a fun trip. Vacation planning is a huge pick me up for me. Start planning your summer vacation and daydream about sipping a cold drink on a warm beach! If a big trip isn’t in the works, plan a weekend away, maybe to Omaha or St. Louis.
- Pamper yourself. Did you know pedicures are cheaper in the winter? I love getting them even in the dead of winter. Pair with a massage and a facial and you can escape for a day at the spa.
- Don’t isolate yourself. This is a great time of year to get plugged in to a mom’s group if you haven’t already. Get out with other families and fight the cabin fever .
If you’ve reached the point where it’s more than just a case of the “winter blues,” it’s time to see your doctor. A couple of things could be at play:
Low Vitamin D Levels. I discovered I had clinically low levels of vitamin D in the winter of 2013. I thought maybe my anti-depressant had stopped working as I saw signs of depression creeping back in. A quick blood test showed that it wasn’t a problem with my medication, but my vitamin D level. I went on a prescription strength vitamin D supplement for a few weeks and then got retested to confirm my levels were back in the normal range. After that experience, I added vitamin D supplements to my daily regimen from November-March (basically during the months when the sun goes down early.)
Note this is not just something women deal with. My husband was diagnosed with low vitamin D last winter and it really shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise as he works in an office with no windows! His doctor also recommended a supplement during the winter months and he’s noticed an improvement in his mood as a result. How much vitamin D you take should be discussed with your doctor. Some over the counter doses may not be strong enough depending on your level of deficiency, so get the blood work done and talk to your doctor, especially if you are pregnant or nursing.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). According to the Mayo Clinic: “Seasonal affective disorder is a subtype of major depression that comes and goes based on seasons. Symptoms can include: irritability, tiredness or low energy, problems getting along with other people, hypersensitivity to rejection, heavy, ‘leaden’ feeling in the arms and legs, oversleeping, appetite changes, and weight gain.” We all probably have days where we can check a few of those things on the list, but if it is several days in a row and the feelings of sadness really persist, it’s time to see a doctor and get screened for SAD.
Treatment for SAD usually includes phototherapy (aka using a “happy light“), medication, and therapy. All of these treatment options can and should be discussed with your physician. I try to schedule my yearly physical in January so I can check in with my doctor about how I am doing during the winter months and adjust things as needed.
What do you do to survive the often bleak winter months?