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Dr. Geri-Lynn Utter, PsyD. - The winter blues: it’s ok not to feel ok.

In certain parts of the world, the winter months can take a toll on someone’s mental health.  Many folks experience what we refer to as the “Winter Blues.”  Sunshine hours are shorter, and the weather is colder and bitter. The lack of sunshine and cold weather can make us feel “blah” – unmotivated, fatigued, down and craving carbohydrates such as bread, pastas, and sweets. Feeling good – mentally- and staying inspired during these cold months can be challenging. Here, we explore why the “Winter Blues” might occur and what can be done to maximize sunshine hours and improve one’s mood.

Exposure to the ultraviolet rays produced by the sun causes our bodies to produce Vitamin D which instigates cell growth, supports healthy immune function and helps our bodies absorb calcium. 

Right now, you are probably thinking, that’s great, but you aren’t telling me why I feel more down, irritable, fatigued and altogether rubbish. More thorough clinical research is still needed, however, some studies have shown that Vitamin D may also play a role in regulating one’s mood. It is believed that deficient levels of Vitamin D may be correlated to depression. 

Yeah, I may be a clinical psychologist, but first and foremost I am a working mom with two young children and a husband.  Outside of some of the typical dips in mood and anxiety levels that many of us face due to the change of warm to cold weather that decreases the amount of sunlight to which we are exposed, we are also faced with the stress, anxiety, depression and even trauma associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.  From a mental health perspective, the “Winter Blues” coupled with Covid-19 is like a one-two punch to the gut. I myself experience seasonal depression and try to follow a couple of self-care techniques to maintain my mental health and sanity throughout the work week (and in general 😊).

1.) Baby it is cold outside – go out for a walk anyway.  This past week, my kids were fighting with each other in the house, and work felt like one ginormous Zoom marathon.  I needed to clear my head, take a work breather, and give myself a boost, so I bundled up and went for a walk.  Now, this walk does not have to be long, 30-minutes of brisk walking will do, as moderate exercise will give you a little pep in your mood and exposure to whatever ultraviolet rays are outside.  Keep in mind, just because it may not be sunny, does not mean that ultraviolet rays are not shining.  If you are unable to leave your home, no worries, stream a 15-30 minute workout video on your phone, television or tablet.  Trust me, you may be dreading it while you are doing it, but the residual effects will be worth it.

2.) There are special light lamps that are designed to mimic natural sunlight.  These lamps are pretty affordable. They are typically small and compact making it easy to fit on your desk or the floor nearby. However, before you go out and purchase a light therapy lamp, it is recommended to double-check with your doctor to ensure your continued health and safety.

3.) Staying productive at work, as a parent, as a partner, as a caregiver – a human being- whatever your personal circumstance can be draining both physically and emotionally, especially during the winter months. I try to practice the same self-care strategies that I share with my patients and therapy is one of them. Having the ability to vent and discuss issues that are creating stress for me, with a trained, unbiased professional, for an hour a week helps me muster up the psychological strength to get through life, let alone the work week.

The ongoing pandemic coupled by the winter season has been mentally draining for many people.  One final tip that I think is important to implement during this time is self-compassion.  It is “ok”, to not feel “ok” or like you have to operate at 100% in every aspect of your life. As people we will innately experience good and bad days. Heck, I feel like I experience good and bad moments throughout a single day.

These tips are things that work for me, but I’d advise people to do what feels right for them, we’re all different. Above all, try taking life one day at a time and if you think you need help, don’t be afraid to reach out.

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“The lack of sunshine and cold weather can make us feel 'blah'.”]

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