Mindfulness To Help Cope with the Winter Blues

As the winter months drag on, many of us tend to experience a dip in our mood and energy levels. In some cases, this can develop into a more serious condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). However, there are some ways to overcome the winter blues, and one of them is through mindfulness. In this blog post, we will explore how you can use mindfulness to boost your mood, and also touch on the role of vitamin D levels in relation to seasonal affective disorder and/or the winter blues.

Practice mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges from paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment, non-judgmentally and with acceptance.  Meditation is one potent way to develop mindfulness. By sitting quietly and focusing on your breath sensations, you can learn to observe your thoughts and feelings coming and going, without judgment and with equanimity (mental composure and balance).  If the breath is not comfortable to focus upon, you can use a different ‘anchor’ for your attention like the sensations in your feet or an external focus like paying attention to a sound in the environment.  Meditation can be especially helpful when you're feeling down, as it allows you to acknowledge your emotions without getting caught up in them.  This takes practice, of course and it helps to have a teacher to teach you how to cultivate these skills. The invitation is to also practice bringing kindness and compassion to your experience, particularly if challenging thoughts and emotions are present. Practicing mindfulness meditation for as little as 5 - 10 minutes a day can make a significant difference to your mood.

Incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine

Bringing mindfulness into your daily routine is another excellent way to practice it. This can be as simple as paying attention to the physical sensations associated with washing dishes or taking a shower. For example, when washing dishes, you could pay attention to the feeling the warmth of the water, the weight of the dish, the movement of the hand as you scrub, the smell of the dish soap, hearing the sound of the bubbles crackling etc...Thoughts and feelings may be coming and going in the background but you’re more interested in the direct physical sensations with the task at hand.  When the attention wanders, that’s okay and not a problem at all. In fact, it’s to be expected because that’s just the nature of the mind. You simply notice that the attention has drifted away from the intended focus, and just gently but deliberately bring the attention back to the physical sensations and the task. By focusing on the present moment and engaging your five senses, you can bring greater awareness to your everyday activities, develop insight into the wandering mind, train the attention to keep coming back, thus, building the present moment pathway in the brain. This will build your capacity to be the present moment fully, more of the time.

Setting an intention for your day, such as "I will be mindful of my thoughts and feelings today" and “I’ll notice when my mind is wandering and bring my attention back to the present moment whenever possible”, which will help you stay more present and engaged, more of the time, even when you're not actively meditating.

Spend time in nature

Spending time in nature is a powerful way to boost your mood and cultivate mindfulness. Whether you go for a hike, take a walk, or simply sit outside and soak up the sun, being in nature can help you feel more connected to the world around you.

As you spend time in nature, pay attention to your surroundings. Notice the colors, textures, sounds and smells of the natural world. Take deep breaths and feel the sun rays on your face. By fully engaging your senses, you can cultivate a greater sense of mindfulness and connection to the world around you.

Practice self-compassion

Practicing self-compassion is vital, particularly when you're feeling down. Instead of criticizing yourself for your challenging/difficult emotions, try to approach yourself with kindness and understanding. Let go of all judgments, if possible.

One way to practice self-compassion is to imagine what you would say to a close friend who was feeling the exact same way you are. What words of comfort and encouragement would you offer them? Try to offer yourself those same words of kindness and support.

Take care of your vitamin D levels

Vitamin D is a nutrient that helps regulate mood, and it is particularly important during the winter months when sunlight exposure is limited. Several studies have found that low levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased risk of developing depression and other mood disorders. A review of research published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that low vitamin D levels were significantly associated with depression, anxiety, and panic disorders. Another study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that vitamin D supplementation improved mood and reduced symptoms of depression in overweight and obese individuals.

To boost your vitamin D levels, you can spend more time in the sun (with appropriate skin protection) or eat foods high in vitamin D, such as fatty fish, egg yolks, and fortified dairy products. If you're concerned about your vitamin D levels, talk to your doctor about getting a blood test.

In conclusion, by practicing mindfulness, practicing self-compassion and taking care of your vitamin D levels, you can skillfully deal with those winter blues and find more joy and energy in your daily life. So if it feels right, give these techniques a try and see how they can transform your mood and energy levels this winter.