By Kate Cunnigham, MATC counselor
Ah, winter in Wisconsin! Like many who reside at our particular latitude, we’re starting to feel the drag right about now – the holidays are over, the snow isn’t “festive” anymore, driving can be hazardous, and it’s cold/dark/nasty out. If the winter blues have come your way, you’re not alone; fortunately, you’re not helpless either. There are some simple things you can do to help combat feeling down or depressed during the winter months. Give some of the following a try:
Stick to a routine
Get out of bed at a certain hour every day and do something (go to class, exercise, clean, call a family member, etc.). Even if you’re not really feeling it, keeping up with your regular activities can help keep the blues from getting worse.
Exercise can be a powerful tool in managing symptoms of depression or anxiety. In fact, there’s good evidence that suggests that over time a moderate, regular exercise routine can be as effective in treating mood disorders as a low-dose antidepressant. The Downtown Milwaukee Campus gym is accessible to current MATC students, faculty and staff alike; if that doesn’t appeal to you, go the DIY route. Find a spot you can dance around, do some sit-ups, or just take a walk a few times a week. If you visit the Main Building during the lunch hour, you may notice some resourceful folks with step trackers making good use of the hallways and stairwells – there’s no wrong way to do it, so long as you move.
Get into the light
The winter months bring some dreary days to Wisconsin, and yes, this can absolutely affect your mood. Take advantage of when we do get a little sunshine to find a window to sit in and soak up some of that light. Some people are so affected by the reduction in sunlight during the winter that getting a sun lamp can be a worthwhile investment.
Boost your nutrition
What you eat – or don’t eat – can affect your mood, too. If your regular diet is short on nutrients (even if it’s not short on calories), this can contribute to feeling down or sluggish. You don’t need to go crazy to make an improvement in your daily nutrition – you can eat a carrot, an apple, or whatever produce is in-season and cheap. While you’re at it, drink a glass of milk with that doughnut and get a little more protein and Vitamin D in your life. If you can get your hands on a multivitamin (it doesn’t need to be fancy – generic works just fine), that can be helpful as well.
Grow your altruistic side
Take time regularly to focus on helping someone else. Believe it or not, one of the surest ways to feel good yourself is by doing things for others. You can volunteer formally at one of the many local organizations that would be happy to have your help, or do something casual like shovel your neighbor’s walk. If there’s a particular social issue that you’re especially drawn to (homelessness, domestic violence, food insecurity, etc.), find out how to get involved and make an impact at the community level.
Make plans with people you enjoy spending time with. Don’t just agree you’ll hang out “sometime.” Put it on a calendar so you remember and you’re committed. Many people want to isolate themselves when they’re feeling down, and this can make mood issues worse. You don’t have to pour your heart out to your friends and loved ones if you don’t want to, just plan some time to see them. Even if you’re not feeling especially social, don’t flake out. Chances are you’ll benefit from the effort.
Remember, if you start to feel so down that it’s affecting your ability to work, learn, care for yourself, or parent, this is when it’s time to seek out some professional help and support. Talk to your doctor or seek out counseling on your own. If you need help getting a referral, you can call your insurance company or call 211 for a list of community resources. And if you’re having thoughts of self-harm, harm to others or suicide, don’t wait – get to a hospital emergency room right away, or call 911.