The 5 Best Self-Care Habits to Feel Happy All Winter, Experts Say
A bad mood can set in on any given day or time of the year, but depression tends to be more prevalent during the winter. The air is colder and the days are shorter, making it that much easier to slip into a funk.
The winter blues are so common there's even an official medical diagnosis for the condition: seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Per the Mayo Clinic, SAD is a variety of depression brought on by the changing of the seasons, with the vast majority of individuals developing symptoms in the wintertime.
Normally, it's estimated that about 5% of U.S. adults experience SAD annually, with symptoms persisting for as long as 40% of the calendar year. Of course, life still isn't exactly normal nowadays. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has almost certainly changed matters.
For example, last winter, a revealing poll reported half of Americans were worried about struggling with a bout of winter blues. "A lot of us get tired during the winter months," Dr. Richard Shelton, a professor and vice chair for research in the department of psychiatry at the University of Alabama Birmingham School of Medicine, tells NBC News. "You couple that with what we also know is another causal factor for depression, which is multiple stressors, especially over a short period of time, and sure enough, we would naturally expect that this is going to produce a higher rate of depression."
On the bright side, there are a number of ways to stave off the blues this winter. Whether you've struggled with SAD for years or just recently started to notice a shift in your mood, practicing these expert-recommended tips can help promote a better mindset all winter long. Keep reading to learn them all, and next, don't miss these effective ways to fight anxiety.
Make your bed
This first tip may be simple, but there's nothing wrong with simplicity if it works. Starting your day by making the bed sets the tone for a productive, positive day.
"While making your bed every morning might seem like a chore, this simple habit can help you begin your day on a positive note and a healthier routine," says Karin Sun, best sleep practices expert and founder of Crane & Canopy. "Surveys have shown that bedmakers are happier and more successful at home and work, feel more rested, and are more engaged in a healthy lifestyle than their rumpled-sheet peers. Making your bed every morning creates a Domino Effect and triggers you to build other healthy habits into your day."
Moreover, plenty of research tells us that living in a clean, organized environment can do wonders for your overall mental health and well-being. This poll actually found that people who make their beds each day are usually healthier, more outgoing, and sleep better, too.
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Speaking of sleep, it's especially important to make sure you're getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night.
"We might not be animals who hibernate, but it's still crucial that we get as much good, quality sleep as possible to stay happy in the winter months," explains Stephen Light, Co-Owner of Nolah Mattress and Certified Sleep Science and Stress Management Coach. "Mental health and sleep are tied to one another, so try to implement little changes that help you get a better sleep—the change doesn't have to be massive right away."
Meanwhile, this research published in Annals of Behavioral Medicine reports that all it takes is roughly three consecutive nights of poor sleep to spark a major deterioration in both physical and mental well-being.
"Buy yourself cozy new bedding, switch out your evening coffee with a cup of herbal tea, shut off screens, and journal before bed," suggest Light. "All of these little choices can help you build a wintertime sleep ritual that has you waking up rested and happy, even when the days are colder and darker."
Related: Nighttime Habits That Ruin Your Sleep, According to Science
Stay socially active
There's something to be said for curling up with a good book by the fire on a snowy night, but don't let the cold weather keep you from seeing family and friends. Everyone, yes even you, needs at least some social interaction on a regular basis.
"Connect with people who bring a smile to your face by just thinking of them. Don't hesitate to reach out for support if you're feeling down, whether you are seeking support from a friend or partner, or reaching out to your therapist, social support is key to mental health, especially in times of stress," says clinical psychologist Dr. Aurelie Lucette.
In support of the connection between sociability and positivity, in this study, conducted at Harvard University and published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers name social connection as the strongest protective factor against depression.
"Far and away the most prominent of these factors was frequency of confiding in others, but also visits with family and friends, all of which highlighted the important protective effect of social connection and social cohesion," comments senior study author Dr. Jordan Smoller, associate chief for research in the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Psychiatry. "These factors are more relevant now than ever at a time of social distancing and separation from friends and family."
Related: This Common Issue May Be Making You Anti-Social, New Study Says
You've probably heard this suggestion before, but that doesn't make it any less true. Maintaining an active lifestyle that includes enough exercise is key to staying positive no matter what life throws your way this winter. For instance, this study published in Preventive Medicine analyzed nearly 18,000 people before concluding that exercise has serious mood-boosting benefits.
"We know that during vigorous aerobic exercise we're releasing endorphins and pain-relieving substances," says Cleveland Clinic's Scott Bea, PsyD. "We suspect that other mood-regulating chemicals are being released as well, such as serotonin; and dopamine–the 'feel-good' chemical. And we think all of those can be byproducts of activity, and exercise in particular, so there are biological explanations for this."
Another research project published in Depression & Anxiety tells us that all it takes is about 35 minutes of daily exercise to help keep negative thoughts at bay. So, you don't have to spend all day sweating to stay smiling.
Related: 5 Major Benefits of Doing Yoga Every Day
"Get out and give back. Even though we may be hurting, there is healing in sharing the journey of others," suggests Kevin Gormley, PMHNP-BC, a nurse practitioner at Minded. "Volunteer, help others; often the laws of reciprocation come into play and we find joy in our ability to share with others in this life."
Helping others is often a great way of helping ourselves—and even science says so. This research released in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds regular volunteering protects against depression and promotes both happiness and longer life in general.
"Our results show that volunteerism among older adults doesn't just strengthen communities, but enriches our own lives by strengthening our bonds to others, helping us feel a sense of purpose and well-being, and protecting us from feelings of loneliness, depression, and hopelessness," explains lead study author Dr. Eric Kim, of the Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University.
Follow these tips, and you can boost your happiness all winter long.
For more, check out This 15-Minute Workout Can Add Years to Your Life.