Finish the winter season strong with these tips for kicking the rest of the winter blues
Spring is just around the corner! We have fresh flower blossoms, longer days, warmer weather, and greener trees to look forward to.
However, we aren’t there yet. In the meantime we remain in the dead of winter and, for many, the worst of the winter blues. To help, I have compiled a list of things you can do to stay on top of your mental health while the sun is still in hibernation.
As a disclaimer before we get started: while the “winter blues” is a real thing and can affect many people, it is different from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which can be much more serious and may need professional treatment from a licensed doctor and/or psychiatrist. These tips and tricks should not replace professional consultation with a doctor and if you feel you need more help please reach out to a doctor. Additionally, we have many campus resources available to help such as: the UVic Wellness Centre, the UVSS Peer Support Centre, and the Centre for Accessible Learning (CAL).
For the winter blues, here are some things we can do to keep feeling our best until the sun decides to show its face again. There are plenty of ways to be proactive about your mental and physical health during the winter. These are just a few tips we find helpful; do some, do all, or find your own. Remember that everyone is different and needs different things during the winter to be safe and healthy.
Keeping up with Vitamin D is arguably the most important thing to do during the winter. When the sun is away for months on end (like it is on wonderful Vancouver Island) we get the least amount of Vitamin D compared to any other time of the year. Ironically, winter is the time we need it the most. Vitamin D is responsible for a multitude of things ranging from immune support to bone and gut health. However, a lack of Vitamin D can lead to depression, seasonal affective disorder, and even schizophrenia in adults. The bottom line is that we need Vitamin D.
One of the main ways our body gets this vitamin is through sun exposure — which is tough to get during the winter. Fortunately, there are other ways to get Vitamin D to keep our bodies and minds running smoothly for the rest of winter.
Certain foods are a high source of Vitamin D, such as fish (specifically tuna, swordfish, salmon, and sardines), fortified dairy products, and egg yolks. Adding more of these foods to your diet during the winter is a good way to keep up your supply of Vitamin D while your body patiently waits for the sun to come back. If you find adding more foods like this to your diet is easier said than done, taking Vitamin D supplements is an alternate way to increase the supply of Vitamin D in our bodies. Vitamin supplements are available at most grocery stores and pharmacies in Victoria.
One fun way to have some extra light in your days is with a SAD lamp. Since one of the main ways our body gets Vitamin D is through the UV rays emitted by the sun, why not replicate those rays with a lamp? SAD lamps are designed to replicate the UV rays from the sun that we lack during the winter months. These rays reduce the sleepy melatonin hormone and increase the happy serotonin hormone in our brains. Research shows that 60–70 per cent of patients who use these lamps report significant improvements in their symptoms. While it is recommended to start this treatment early in the winter or even in the fall, starting now may still give you a little boost to get through the rest of the winter. You can buy SAD lamps online or in some pharmacies in Victoria.
Getting outside is a great way to increase sun absorption and get fresh air. Both of which can help boost your mood. While staying active is important whether inside or outside, now that the days are starting to get longer, you have the perfect opportunity to get more exercise outside. We published a list of hiking trails around Victoria last summer. This is a great place to start if you’re looking to hike, see a sunset, or just breathe some fresh air.
Maintain a regular sleep schedule
This one is the hardest for me. When the sun is only in the sky for seven — eight hours a day, I find myself going to bed either too late or too early and wanting to sleep-in well into the morning or midday. Having a consistent sleep schedule helps to maintain your circadian rhythm which can have a positive impact on your mental health.
One practical way to do this is waking up at the same time every day. I recently watched a video of Cecilia Blomdahl who has mastered the art of thriving during a polar night (when the sun does not appear between September and March in the far north). In her video, “My daily routine & FIVE BEST TIPS on how I stay happy living in permanent darkness,” she describes using a wakeup light that goes off at the same time every day. It gradually increases in brightness to replicate a sunrise allowing her to maintain a circadian rhythm and trick her body into thinking the sun is coming up every morning. While life on Vancouver Island is not that extreme, this practice is a good example of maintaining a regular wake up schedule which can help your body stay healthy and happy during the dark months.
Staying happy during the winter can be hard for many people. This article is a reminder that you are not experiencing this alone and that there are ways to make this time more manageable. However, if these tips are not working for you and you feel you need more help, never hesitate to reach out to a friend, family member, or a resource on or off campus. We are in the final stretch of winter and before you know it the days will be long, hot, and full of summertime activities — so hang in there and make the most of the wintertime! Share these tips with your friends and stay positive, we are almost out of another blue season.