Let’s Talk About Mental Health: 5 Ways to Fight the Upcoming Winter Blues

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Mental health issues can impact anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background.

GovCIO has initiated a new, ongoing, employee-led wellness series to help foster a more open dialogue about mental health in the workplace. As a part of this series, members of the GovCIO team are reflecting on some of the most prevalent mental health topics today, along with tips for managing stress and anxiety.

Spotlight on Fighting the Upcoming Winter Blues

Cold weather and long nights are a tough combo for a positive and healthy mindset. Check out these tips to give yourself a boost this winter!

It’s not always easy to put on a happy face during the winter. Shorter days and less sun can take a toll both physically and mentally. Sunlight also increases serotonin production, which helps stabilize mood and overall sense of well-being. However, the absence of sunlight triggers melatonin, the hormone that tells us it’s time to sleep.

The combination of all these factors can do a number on our mood and cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). So, how do we stay mentally fit during the winter months?

1. Start (or keep up with) a Gratitude Journal

Sit down quietly every day or night and take 5-10 minutes to jot down at least three things that happened that day that you’re grateful for. Don’t overthink it! Gratitude comes in many forms and even the simplest of things deserve recognition. For example, one could be as simple as acknowledging that the sun was out, so you were able to take a walk in the local park. While it may seem difficult to focus on gratitude in the dead of winter, changing your mindset and focusing on the positives can lead to deeper meaning in your day-to-day experiences and help you feel good about whatever is going on in your world.

Look at this as an opportunity to practice mindfulness this winter!


How To Start a Gratitude Journal
of people experience the "winter blues"
more common in women than men
of people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

2. Stay Active

When it gets chilly outside, it can be tempting to snuggle up on the couch with a cup of hot cocoa and stay put. However, fight the urge! It is important to stay active throughout the winter, especially if you work in a sedentary environment. In addition to the health benefits, regular exercise helps you sleep better, gives you more energy and reduces anxiety.

Rule of thumb for heading outdoors is to dress in layers so you can peel off clothing as your core temperature heats up. And don’t forget about liquids! You may not feel as thirsty when it’s cold, so you’re more prone to dehydration (yes, even in the winter).

6 Tips to Stay Active this winter

3. Fuel Your Body

With the colder weather and holidays throughout the winter season, it is easy to choose unhealthy comfort foods and sugary sweets over nutrition-rich meals. Unfortunately, that quick “pick-me-up” will turn to a drag-you-down when your blood sugar tumbles. Instead of reaching for that leftover Halloween candy, try something with complex carbs and a little bit of protein, which will keep your blood sugar – and your mood — steadier.

Some feel-good snacks include:

  • A bowl of bran cereal with low-fat milk
  • Almond butter on an apple
  • Tuna on whole wheat crackers

Remember, comfort food doesn’t need to be unhealthy!


5 Foods You Should Eat This Winter

4. Keep Social

Don’t feel like you need to hole up in your house until spring! Breaking out of your shell and pressing pause on your favorite Netflix show for a little while is crucial to ensure you are staying mentally fit during the winter. Here’s why:

  • Socializing releases dopamine. With the shorter daylight hours, this causes your body to produce melatonin earlier in the day which signals your body to get ready for bed earlier. However, spending time with family and friends leads to a dopamine reaction, which stimulates your brain’s pleasure center (aka this tells your brain you’re having fun!).
  • Motivation. Spending time with your social circle can motivate you to get in some much-needed physical activity. While cooler weather causes us to slow-down and hibernate, meeting up with family and friends helps you stay accountable and gives you a great excuse to move your body! Win, win.
  • Warn off harmful feelings of withdrawal. In the winter months is it easy to feel like hermit crab. Spending time with your loved ones helps you fight off withdrawal and isolation, which have negative implications on your mental health.

5. Don't Fight the Frost!

Embrace the season by celebrating all the things that make winter amazing! Fill your space with items that represent the winter and indulge your senses – either one, two or all five of them at once. Start a new DIY craft to get a head-start on holiday gifts, bake (and eat!) a batch of your favorite cookies, crank up the holiday tunes, or enjoy the warmth of the fire with some hot cocoa.

Choosing to focus on the positive is a necessary (and beneficial) coping mechanism that will lend itself to a much happier, and healthier winter season for both your mind and body!

5 Reasons Why Winter Is the Best Season!