Everyone's so grumpy!
Those pesky winter blues. (Or fall, spring, and summer for that matter.) It may be almost April, but it doesn't feel like it (or look like it!) What we're talking about here isn’t necessarily clinical depression, but those symptoms that feel a lot like it but maybe don’t last as long, aren't as severe, and are more easily treatable through changes in behavior and activities. (Therapist plug: if you suspect you may feel you have a more serious form of depression, please talk with a therapist! Even if you think it may not be serious enough to warrant therapy, there’s no harm in going over it with a professional!)
Winter is notorious for bringing on that mood slump, where getting out of bed doesn’t sound that fun, getting together with friends feels like a hassle, you're irritated with all your co-workers and/or family members, and tears are always on the verge of spilling. The winter months can be the worst, but March and April can be tough too. March and April can be pretty gloomy, spring break has passed for students, the end of school still seems far away, and summer isn’t quite around the corner.
Winter in the Midwest tends to deprive us of much needed sunlight that does in fact directly impact many of our moods. We really do need that vitamin D! The cold weather also tends to keep us indoors and lowers our motivation for going out and socializing, another known mood zapper. So, short of becoming a snowbird and moving to Arizona with your grandparents for the summer, how can you cope during these months? There are ways we can manage our behaviors to improve our mood and help us cope in a healthy way during the winter, spring, summer, or whatever season in your year gets you down. "I don't want to," you say, "I have no motivation," you say. Understood. However, when it comes to beating those blues, a key part is the fancy technique known as Forcing Yourself. Sounds super simple, but isn't always. Clients tend to roll their eyes when we talk about this super amazing technique. However, sometimes we have to remind ourselves of the benefits of doing things that boost our moods and force ourselves to try something. Let's talk about some options.
Socialize. Yeah yeah, easier said than done when it feels like 10 below or it’s rained for what seems like 40 days and 40 nights. The problem: reduced social interaction is a mood zapper, and can be a slippery slope into isolation and feelings of depression. Plan a game night, coffee date, tea cellar date (it’s a thing), food event, Netflix night, wine night, the possibilities really are not as limited as it seems in winter!
Bake. Did you know that watching something rise in the oven actually releases happy chemicals in your brain that can improve your mood? It’s true. Don’t believe it? Try it. If you’re not a baker, start easy with pre-made cookies you just pop in the oven. Health nut? Great! Try a new healthy recipe!
Accomplish something. Anything. Little, big, for yourself, for someone else. Accomplishing things as small as making the bed can give you the boost you need to keep moving forward in the day. Write a letter, make a to-do list, go grocery shopping, clean the kitchen sink, whatever! Accomplishment is a great way to give your mood the boost it needs.
Pamper yourself. Take a hot bath or shower, use Epsom salts, soak your feet, add essential oils, light a candle, or do it all! Paint your nails, try a new hairstyle or makeup routine, whatever floats your boat.
Laugh. No funny family members? Watch funny youtube videos. Try a new game app. Find a new tv series to binge watch (but not for too long; see number 1). Great way to boost mood.
Exercise! So fun! Or not. But it's helpful for all! Now, if it’s winter, you may not want to run out and train for a marathon, but there’s plenty you can do without going gym crazy. (But if that’s your thing, rock it because it will definitely boost that mood!) Try a yoga video, even do some stretches. Movement and getting that heart rate up a bit can really help your mood. The anticipation of doing physical activity can be, like, the worst. But the reward of energy, accomplishment, and contentment is worth it!
Call your mom. Or your grandmother, sister, best friend, etc. Talking with someone, admitting you're feeling low, can really help. Talking about how you're feeling out loud can give you the extra boost to do other things to help improve your mood.
So let’s quick address how to enhance our ability to force ourselves. As with many things rooted in therapeutic techniques, there’s a lot of heavy positive self-talk involved. Examples: “I know I will feel better when I do this; I’ll give it a try at least, what do I have to lose; I’ll give it 15 minutes and see how I feel; I know I’ll feel better if I at least do something, etc.” Focus on those positive thoughts. Then it’s time to take a breath and plunge in. Don’t allow that negative Nancy or Nick self-talk to take over and convince you to just sit in the couch or in your room all day. Not helpful Nancy, not helpful Nick.
If you find yourself slipping and unable to get out of the slump, let's reiterate the importance of finding a therapist that can help you find out what works best for you. There’s always a way to improve your mood, it’s just a matter of finding out what works best for you.