11 Ways To Beat The Winter Blues During The Pandemic

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woman with sweater over her mouth

Did you know that anywhere from about 10 to 20 percent of Americans experience mild “winter blues" or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

About 10 million Americans experience the winter blues every year, so it's more common than you realize.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a condition related to not getting enough sunlight. For that, there are lamps that provide the spectrum of light needed to avoid depression.

There's even a company called Verilux that makes a product called the "Happy Light" just for that purpose! But beyond that, the issue of just dealing with the holidays can often cause the winter blues.

RELATED: If You're Struggling With Seasonal Affective Disorder, Read This For The Sake Of Your Mental Health

The winter blues may be worse in this pandemic year.

The holiday season is hard on people for a variety of reasons. Perhaps your family is in another state and you can’t make it home.

Or maybe your finances aren’t what you’d like them to be and you're feeling the pressure of that. Maybe you lost a loved one or a significant other and this is your first Christmas without them.

Or maybe there are family dynamics that you just find overwhelming: Your mom doesn’t like your boyfriend, or your family members eat and drink too much.

Your grandmother always comments on your weight. Your husband hates your mother; your kids are going to their in-laws' home instead of coming to your house... the list goes on.

The point is, the holidays can be very stressful — and for people at risk, downright depressing.

But it can also be joyous! It really is up to you.

You may not be able to control everything, but you can take steps to make it the most relaxing and spiritually positive time of year if you do a bit of planning and maybe take a few risks.

The biggest predictor of holiday depression is isolation. So, step number one is to safely connect with other people.

Sometimes, even if you have people to spend time with, you may opt out of activities because you don't feel connected, so they don't try to connect with you, either. That just makes the isolation worse.

However, when you develop a plan to be with other people — even through virtual or socially distant means — you'll almost always be glad you did.

It usually goes very differently than you imagined. You may just need a little nudge!

Here are 11 ways to beat the winter blues during the pandemic (while keeping you safe and happy).

1. Learn to say “no.”

Overscheduling and not making time for yourself — especially if you have a full-time job or are a full-time student — is almost as bad as isolating and can lead to emotional breakdowns.

Say “no” when you need to and stick to it.

2. Limit alcohol.

Alcohol is a depressant and it flows during the holidays. Try not to keep it around if you're prone to using it to numb your feelings.

Alcohol won’t really help. If you’re attending a party and you know alcohol will be served, limit yourself to one drink.

Most DUIs happen during the holiday season.

3. Get plenty of sleep.

Try to go to bed at a specific time each night. The earlier, the better.

The only time the body makes antioxidants (which fight free radicals — the things that age you and cause disease) is during sleep between sundown and midnight. At midnight the body begins to age again.

Being well-rested can improve your mood and help you feel ready to take on the day.

4. Be open to new traditions.

You may have an image of what you think the holiday should consist of, and this may not be what’s actually happening.

I had to come to terms with not having my children and grandchildren for Christmas Eve this year at my house, which has always been our tradition.

It was just too hard for them, with my daughter-in-law's crazy residency hours and the one-and-a-half-year-old newest addition to the family. So, I'm going to them on Christmas morning instead.

The important thing is to be with them, and not hold onto a tradition that, although I truly love it, may not be practical right now. Instead of holding on to what the holiday should have been, allow new traditions to unfold.

RELATED: 11 Self-Care Strategies To Get You Through The Colder Winter Months

5. Get support when mourning a loved one.

If you’ve experienced the loss of a loved one or a significant other, the holidays can be especially tough.

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Although it can be tempting to isolate yourself, it is better to spend time with your friends and family, especially if they share in your loss. Seek professional help if you find yourself unable to cope.

6. Spend time with your loved ones.

Instead of spending the holidays alone at home, get your friends or family together for a dinner party or a brunch at your place. Have everyone bring something to minimize the expense and work.

Or get together with friends at a restaurant that serves a great breakfast and go to the zoo or a movie afterward.

7. Decorate.

You don’t have to go all out, but picking out a few beautiful things that represent the holiday will bring you joy every time you look at them.

I love to listen to Christmas music while I decorate. It reminds me of my mom. Putting up a couple of lights, or even a little tree while listening to some music might make your day a little brighter.

8. Exercise regularly.

Plug in your headphones and pop out for a walk around the block a couple of times a day. A quick 10-minute walk will get your heart rate up and release mood-boosting endorphins. Or if you work out regularly, keep to your routine.

9. Avoid overeating.

Before heading out to social events, I pull what I call a "Scarlet O’Hara." I eat before I go. Try to fill up on your favorite truly healthy foods before you leave.

Many people do the opposite, thinking they'll have more calories to spare when they get to the party. But because they didn’t eat all day, they're starving when they get there and then they overeat. Unfortunately, most party food is not very good for you.

The last thing you need to do is feel guilty or end up feeling bloated and sluggish afterward.

10. Volunteer.

The holidays can be an especially difficult time for older adults. If you’re unable to be with friends or family, look for volunteer opportunities that allow you to be a support to others. There is nothing more heart-warming than bringing joy to someone else.

11. Attend a religious service.

If you practice a religion, this is the time to go, even if you are not as active as you have been in the past. I often return to my childhood church for the candlelight service because it brings back such sweet memories.

How do you know if you are experiencing significant symptoms of depression or winter blues? The most common symptoms are:

Feeling like even simple activities are difficult to impossible. This includes getting out of bed, making dinner, and showering.
Feeling more tired than usual — even after sleeping most of the day.
Insomnia — being awake most of the night.
Losing interest in things that used to bring you joy.
Having trouble concentrating.
Loss of appetite or bingeing.
Hopelessness and helplessness.
Unremitting anxiety — this isn’t the same as worrying, which usually has a focus. Anxiety is unfocused, negative, and may involve agitation, anger, or irrational beliefs

RELATED: 6 Tips For Surviving The Winter If You Suffer From Seasonal Depression

Renae Norton is a psychologist and offers an alternative to inpatient treatment for severe cases of anorexia, bulimia, or a combination of the two. For more information, visit her website, Eating Disorder Pro.

This article was originally published at Eating Disorder Pro. Reprinted with permission from the author.