According to recent surveys millions of Americans report being in a bad mood this winter. According to researchers this shift in mood is a result of much more than the woes that come with Holiday depression. In current years, I have been among those millions. Maybe you are, too.
Psychologists call this phenomenon being “seasonally-affected.” Many in the scientific community consider it a temporary physiological change in body rhythms and internal chemistry due to more than just mood fluctuations during the Holidays, but giving credit to the lack of sunshine and light during these cold, dark months. After all, light is a source of natural energy for our minds and our bodies. So it goes without saying that the less light we have in our environment, the less likely we are to naturally feel exuberant like we may during the brighter months of the year.
Nonetheless, despite what we call it or what the reason behind it is, people from all walks of life are experiencing the “winter blues” at an ever-increasing rate. The good news is they are finding ways to cope with it. The bad news is their coping methods aren’t always effective or positive. We may even be contributing to other unhealthy symptoms and ailments, which may negate emotional well-being in the long-run.
For example, the most widely reported coping methods for beating the winter blues are:
- Calling in sick to work in order to escape the “daily grind”
- Finding personal leisure time (reading, relaxing)
- Stress alleviation techniques (like Yoga or meditation)
- Dietary supplements (such as calming herbal remedies or even multi-vitamins)
- Sleeping in or sleeping extra (guilty as charged)
- Resorting to “comfort” foods (guilty as charged again)
- Resorting to drugs or alcohol…
I’m not on anyone’s personal ethics committee (at least not to my knowledge) but we can’t help but notice the potential harm in some of these coping strategies. Obviously, some of them are positive, such as finding ways to unwind and find stress alleviation naturally, through Yoga, breathing exercises, meditation. Even using quality, wholesome nutritional supplements seems positive and highly beneficial.
But, it’s also obvious that some methods – such as drugs, alcohol, and even indulging in comfort foods – are not only negative ways to cope with winter blues and stress, but they always do more harm than good in the long run.
Alas, there is hope. Following are five extremely positive and healthy ways to cope with the blues this winter which others and myself have found incredibly effective and useful:
- Make Time for Your Self. I don’t just mean to find time for leisure or to do nothing at all when you do find time for your self. This may entail taking time for your own personal development and growth as well. Commit to reading books or finding programs that help you to achieve growth and mastery of your well-being. Take night classes on a subject you’ve always had an interest in learning but have never taken the time to engage in. Stimulating the mind through learning new information and skills as well as improving your social life never hurts! Putting yourself first means you’ll always be able to give your best to everyone else in your life. (Note: If you find that leisure time leaves you thinking more and more about being depressed or in a hopeless mood, this is an especially useful technique. Sometimes doing nothing isn’t always the key to having quality time to your self. Life is really about balance, so find out what works for you and stick with it.)
- Create and Be Your Own Sunshine. For those who do suffer from the winter blues it may seem like an impossible task for us to be happy or joyful during these months of the year when the world around us is virtually devoid of all light and sunshine. One method for increasing energy and well-being is to create your own sunshine. This means you create your own internal sunshine by illuminating on your positive traits and characteristics, on your unique strengths and value, by stating them in the form of positive affirmations. Affirmations are self-empowering statements that can be used to accentuate our positive qualities and communicate in a more effective way to ourselves. They are used the world over (even by many practicing psychiatrists and therapists) in order to help people with mood or depression issues focus on their own positive competencies, those things about their self which make them feel good, expansive, light and joyful inside. We all can do this. It’s merely a matter of saying good things about our self, instead of habitually saying (or thinking) bad things. In doing so, we may create our own sunshine and be happy and joyful by experiencing the internal light we produce. After all, the old saying is right: “True happiness comes from within.”
- Beat the “I Don’t Feel Like It” Syndrome. Listen folks this one is a biggie. How many times have you had the intention to get out of bed early to exercise or begin a new life habit (especially this time of year!) only to find yourself hitting the snooze button over and over again, justifying your reactions by saying “I just don’t feel like it”? Suffice it to say, I am no exception. This is what I’ve come to call the “I Don’t Feel Like It” syndrome and it rears its ugly head in more ways than one: “I’m not in the mood,” “I know I should eat ‘this’ healthy food instead of ‘that’ comfort food, but it doesn’t sound good right now.” Not being in the mood, not feeling like doing something, etc., basically means we have allowed ourselves to turn on the auto-pilot switch in our minds giving our body’s feelings and emotions the power to tell us what to do as well as how and when to do it! Specific phrases such as: “don’t feel,” “not in the mood,” or “doesn’t sound good/ does sound good,” all indicate we are allowing our body to tell us what choices to make instead of exercising our gift of free will in order to choose our actions based on what we value. The most definite step for overcoming the “I Don’t’ Feel Like It” Syndrome is to simply ignore and dismiss the emotional trigger that tells you to say in your mind that you don’t feel like doing something and consciously choose to do it anyway! Always easier said than done, I know. But a little awareness goes a long way, and with consistent, persistent mindfulness and practice you will eventually be able to overcome the most prevalent “syndrome” in our modern culture that keeps us from experiencing the changes we so desperately desire.
- Get Physical. With a nod to Olivia Newton John, modern research is constantly finding new evidence to support that there is a definite mind-body connection and that how we treat our bodies has a direct and noticeable effect on our mood and feelings. For example, a helpful practice in improving mood (especially when you’re “not in the mood”) is to make the conscious choice to get up and get physical, to exercise and move. Even if all you do is go for a walk, you’re going to reap more positive benefits than if you do nothing at all. Exercise also stimulates the release of endorphins and dopamine, two “feely-good” chemicals our brain makes to keep us feeling happy and motivated. The less we exercise, the less we have the “feely-good” chemicals percolating throughout bodies! Also, exercise – especially if it’s at a high enough intensity – stimulates a certain part of the nervous system, further aiding in appetite suppression so that those comfort foods don’t look quite as appealing anymore. And that makes way for my final positive coping method…
- Focus on Food. There’s no denying that foods make us feel a very specific way, physically and emotionally. Comfort foods make us feel comfortable, hence their names. So what’s the problem with comfort foods then? First and foremost, the majority of comfort food is treacherously unhealthy and leads to imminent weight-gain, an inefficient metabolism, and is generally laden with bad fats, processed carbohydrates, and other chemical additives. ‘Nuff said on that.
Second, comfort foods give us the delightful sense of immediate gratification. Basically, we condition our mind and body to accept a manner of eating which causes us to feel good while we are eating and maybe a short time afterward. But we neglect the healthier, mood-enhancing approach which would be to eat in a way that makes us feel good all the time. You see, food affects mood, because mood is the result of different chemical processes in the body and brain. Food has a direct effect on these chemical processes. By choosing foods that contribute to a better mood, we’re not only making healthier decisions for weight management and nourishment, but we’re gaining control of our feelings, too.
For example, foods high in whole proteins, such as lean meat, eggs, fish, beans, and legumes are known for improving mood and helping us feel better by providing our brain with the amino acids (building blocks) it needs to produce the chemicals and hormones in our bodies which may improve mood naturally and stave off food cravings. (Note: Using dietary or herbal supplements may be a good idea as well. Just talk to your physician about it beforehand or seek the advice of a Registered Dietician)
For 2012, let’s make this the year where we finally say goodbye to our winter blues for good. I’m confident that we CAN and WILL defeat negative feelings and emotions, find balance and true happiness all year round, with the right coping strategies in place.
About the Author: Ronnie Brown is a writer and educator of personal growth and development, with a focus on teaching and coaching others in his systems for Dynamic Health and Emotional Mastery. Visit him at http://ronniebrownlifesystems.com/.
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