Ever notice that when it starts to get cold, the blues start creeping up on you? You’re not alone. During winter, some people will just feel more down than their usual selves. Every year, about 5% of Americans report battling a form of winter depression, otherwise known as seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Between shortened hours of sunlight, chilly gray days, and the promise of a cozy nap while nestled under a warm blanket, getting into a funk during the winter is all too easy. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Try out these six winter wellness tips that’ll help you stay in tip-top shape during the season.
6 Winter Wellness Tips to Stay Healthy This Season
1. Get Your Daily Dose of Sunlight
Even though it’s much easier to stay inside and bundle up when there’s limited sunlight, soaking in some sun every day — for even just a couple of minutes — can help battle symptoms of seasonal depression that often accompany the cold weather. These include problems concentrating, intense cravings, and feelings of hopelessness, guilt, and despair.
With sunlight, your brain can produce more serotonin — the hormone associated with feelings of happiness, mood boosts, healthy eating patterns, and better sleeping habits. If your levels of serotonin remain low during winter, you’re more vulnerable to depressive thoughts, anxiety, and self-destructive behaviors. It also improves your levels of vitamin D, which can help you feel better. Aim for 10-30 minutes of sunlight, a few times a week.
What if you live in an area where there just isn’t much sunlight? I’d still recommend bundling up and going outdoors, if possible. You can also try light therapy. There are plenty of affordable gadgets on Amazon that simulate sunlight.
2. Stick to a Regular Sleep Schedule
Sleep is a crucial component of a person’s health and well-being. Proven to increase concentration and productivity, reduce the likelihood of depression, and improve immunity, getting enough quality shut-eye is just as important as being physically active and eating the right foods. Shorter days might make it harder to get up in the morning, when it’s still dark and freezing. But trying to get up at approximately the same time as you normally would is important.
Now’s a good time to remind you to put your gadgets away before bed. Blue light from smartphones and computer screens can put a stopper on the production of melatonin — the hormone associated with the body’s sleep-wake cycle. This results in poor sleep quality and quantity. So, reduce your screen time and avoid watching TV at night. Try reading non-digital copies of magazines or books and listening to soothing music before bedtime to help you fall asleep.
3. Stay Physically Active
If you want to know how to stay healthy in winter, moving your body is going to be part of it. Exercising offers an overwhelming number of health benefits, from reducing the risk of chronic conditions like stroke, diabetes, and heart disease and alleviating stress and symptoms of depression to better your mood, self-esteem, and sleep quality. However, with dark mornings and even darker evenings, you may find it difficult to keep up with the regular workout routine that you follow during other seasons.
If the weather has you indoors, hop on YouTube and look up bodyweight workouts, if you don’t have any equipment. Yoga is always a smart idea, too. You don’t need much to get your heart pumping — just a small bit of space.
Exercise doesn’t have to be a tedious or solitary task, either. Bring friends or loved ones along as you try fun winter wellness activities like skiing, ice-skating, and snowboarding. Instead of avoiding the weather, embrace it.
4. Strengthen Your Immune System with Nutrition and Good Hygiene
Winter is when illnesses like the flu and the cold are most contagious — not to mention COVID-19 is another concern. The most efficient way to steer clear of disease-causing germs is by incorporating nutrient-dense foods into your diet. These can vary from whole grains, lean meats, fruits, and vegetables, to healthy fats like fish and avocado. Omega-3s are especially a top priority during winter since research has found that they play a vital role in improving symptoms of depression.
Moreover, you can avoid coming down with any disease during the winter by practicing good hygiene habits such as washing your hands frequently. When washing, get a nice lather of soap on your hands, scrub for at least 20 seconds, and run it under clean, warm, running water. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends you wash your hands before touching any parts of your face — eyes, nose, or mouth — and after making contact with surfaces in public that are frequently touched by other people.
5. Get the Necessary Vaccinations
While getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating right are all very important, your safest bet in preventing coming down with illnesses and protecting your loved ones during winter is to get the appropriate vaccines. Research has shown that vaccination reduces your chances of getting the flu by 40 to 60%.
If you haven’t already, you should consider getting the COVID-19 vaccine and the booster shot, if that’s where you are in the vaccine schedule. This is going to be especially important with the newer Omicron variant spreading like wildfire.
Over and over again, science has proven that vaccines are the safest and most effective way to prevent illness.
6. Be Kinder to Yourself
During this season, you might not be feeling as peppy as you normally do. Maybe you’re not feeling as motivated to work. Or exercise. Maybe your body changes a little. Perhaps, after a stressful year, you just want to relax, lie down low for a little while, spend some quality time with loved ones, and not think about much else.
You’re allowed to do everything at your own pace. And punishing yourself won’t do you any good. In fact, the act of showing self-compassion has been associated with lower levels of psychological distress, increased motivation, happiness, and self-worth, and improved body image.
Give yourself space, patience, and love. You’ve got this!