The leaves beginning to fall and the weather changing can only mean one thing – winter’s coming. Add that with decreased sunlight and there may be a recipe for sadness and cabin fever for many during the winter season.
“For some it’s a biochemical reaction, but for a lot of folks there’s seasonal affective disorder which has a lot to do with the amount of light available,” said Claire Dean, associate director of counseling at Butler University. “There’s limited activity and transitioning from your typical stress management strategies impedes people. That can affect mood over time.”
Especially among those who live in areas that will inevitably get cold, Dean says individuals don’t prepare to cope with the cold weather, boredom and stress wintertime can bring. People believe staying inside and keeping warm is the key, but in reality, it’s ineffective.
She suggests taking warm weather activities and modifying those activities for the weather. People can also replace activities such as outdoor grilling with winter specific things like baking or visiting a museum. Dean also believes winter is a great time to volunteer one’s time or participate in family activities.
One of the hardest activities to maintain during the winter is physical activity and a healthy caloric intake. Erin Light, fitness and health specialist at Clarian Bariatric Center advises her patients to begin their day with light stretching or yoga for 10 minutes.
“In the wintertime, we wake up, we’ve been in a warm bed and all of a sudden we’re shocked into this cold weather. Morning activity gets your blood flowing and gives you that boost for the day.”
Light also encourages people to not be afraid to exercise outdoors and use the winter as an opportunity to try a new exercise routine. The recession may have decreased gym memberships, but low cost or free activities such as pushups, squats, crunches is encouraged.
To further keep energy high and the weight gain low, Light says it’s OK to delight in the comfort foods of the holidays, if done in moderation and with reasonable portion sizes.
“Don’t treat winter any different than you would treat summer. Exercise is one of the best ways to combat holiday stress,” said Light.
Physical activity may be difficult for some, but coping with the recession or separation from loved ones can be challenging to others. Dean says when memorable events occur, the natural reaction is avoidance. Planning emotionally for anniversaries or days usually spent with loved ones can be effective.
She goes on to say expressing sadness and anger is a natural part of the grieving process. People shouldn’t contain sad feelings or fake happiness, but instead share those feelings with a trusted friend or family member.
“It’s all about your motivation during the winter months,” added Light.