’Tis the season to be … down and depressed? You may have heard of a little thing called “Blue Monday” – that is, approximately the third Monday of January may be the most depressing day of the year. By this point, the holiday cheer has worn off, the cold is setting in and new years resolutions have tapered off. But whether Blue Monday is an actual fact or just a ploy created by travel companies to urge you to book a flight, it’s no secret that the winter months are not the most favourable time to feel “jolly”. And although a vacation may be the solution to all your problems at this point, it’s likely not feasible now that your holiday credit card statements have shown their true colours.
Below are 5 simple and effortless ways you can beat the winter blues:
1- Drink more water
I know for a fact that this is not the first time you’ve heard of the endless benefits of drinking water – but why is it so hard to do? Unfortunately if you’re like me, thirst triggers the coffee part of your brain before of the hydration part. But besides the fact that it lubricates your joints, improves memory, boosts skin and health, helps with weight loss, improves digestion (I can go on for maybe 10 more minutes), a recent study has actually shown that drinking plain water can decrease the risk of depression and anxiety! (1) Want to make it easier to remember to hydrate? Try these simple tips that I’ve found work wonders for me.
- Set water intake goals (e.g. I will finish one 500ml water bottle before noon)
- Invest in a water bottle that has time markings or a reminder light
- Infuse your water with healthy fruits and vegetables, such as berries, ginger, cucumber, mint and lemon. Not only will it taste better but you will also get added health benefits!
- When feeling hungry in between meals and snacks, opt for drinking water instead of binging on a baked good – water will make you feel fuller and save you from the extra unwanted calories
2- Engage in physical activity
Similar to the water list above, I can talk for days about the benefits of exercise. Some studies have shown that exercise may be more effective than medication when it comes to treating depression (2). When I encourage my patients to exercise more often, I find that a lot of them assume I want them to hit the gym 4x/week. This is both scary and untrue. Physical exercise can have many forms and one of the ones I love the most is walking. Walking is both easy to do and free! For those days that are just too cold to walk outside, try an in-home stretching or quick workout video to get those muscles moving.
3- Take full advantage of the sun
Okay, maybe this is not the easiest one to follow when we receive all of January’s rainfall prediction on one single Saturday. But the next morning when you open one eye and see that sun shining through your window, make sure to take full advantage of that Vitamin D. About 40% of Canadians are below the cut-off Vitamin D levels in the winter (3) and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) has been associated with low Vitamin D levels (4). And while supplements have their place, there is nothing better than the fresh, natural, feel-good-sunshine-vitamin.
4- Meal prep
You’ve enjoyed your cookie and champagne diet over the holidays and now it’s time to get back to clean-eating – but you’re struggling with starting the habit. Research shows that a healthy dietary pattern high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil and low-fat dairy has been linked to decreased risk of depression (5). If meal-prepping-Sundays just don’t appeal to you, try starting off with preparing some snacks in the fridge. I spend less than 20-minutes preparing my snacks for the week, which include celery, nuts, yogurt and berries. I find this keeps my energy up throughout the day and helps me from binging on quick and unhealthy snacks after a long day at work.
5- Get QUALITY and not just quantity sleep
Adults need 8 hours of sleep. For some, it’s okay to get 5-hours of sleep. The average adult gets 6.7 hours of sleep. Are you confused yet? I was too when I tried to Google the number of hours adults should sleep each night. The truth is, does it matter how many hours you’re getting if it’s not quality sleep? Probably not. Sleep is one of the only times during the day where our body is actively recovering and healing. Interrupted and disrupted sleep may lead to irritability, anxiety, trouble leaning and focusing, and of course, has poor effects on our mental health (6). Below are some tips for getting quality sleep (6):
- Ditch the screens – the blue light from phones and TVs have been shown to suppress the production of melatonin (sleep hormone) in your body (7)
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time everyday, even on weekends
- Avoid large or heavy meals within a couple of hours before bed
- Keep your bedroom quiet, cool and dark. Your bed should only be used for sleeping and sexual intercourse
- Take a warm bath or shower before bed to relax you
- Practice deep breathing while trying to fall asleep
Want to know the best part in making these 5 habits part of your daily routine? – You can probably complete them all without having to leave your house 😉
Pelvic Floor & Paediatric Physiotherapist
Sandra graduated from Dalhousie University with a Masters degree in Physiotherapy after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology degree with honours from McMaster University. She has worked with a variety of clientele but has developed a true passion in working with both the paediatric and women’s health populations. Sandra has extensive experience assessing and treating a variety of paediatric conditions and most recently has become certified as a pelvic health physiotherapist. She also has additional training in acupuncture and kinesiotaping. Sandra finds great value in guiding each individual through a tailored rehabilitation program to optimize their function and quality of life. In her free time, Sandra enjoys yoga, pilates, traveling and spending time with family and friends.
- Haghighatdoost, F., Feizi, A., Esmaillzadeh, A., Rashidi-Pourfard, N., Keshteli, A. H., Roohafza, H., & Adibi, P. (2018). Drinking plain water is associated with decreased risk of depression and anxiety in adults: Results from a large cross-sectional study. World Journal of Psychiatry, 8(3), 88–96. doi:10.5498/wjp.v8.i3.88
- “Outwalking Depression.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/exercise-and-mood/201107/outwalking-depression
- “Health at a Glance.” Vitamin D Blood Levels of Canadians, 27 Nov. 2015, www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-624-x/2013001/article/11727-eng.htm
- Gloth FM 3rd, Alam W, Hollis B. Vitamin D vs broad spectrum phototherapy in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder. J Nutr Health Aging. 1999;3(1):5-7.
- Li, Y., Lv, M.-R., Wei, Y.-J., Sun, L., Zhang, J.-X., Zhang, H.-G., & Li, B. (2017). Dietary patterns and depression risk: A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Research, 253, 373–382.
- “Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency.” National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sleep-deprivation-and-deficiency
- Harvard Health Publishing. “Blue Light Has a Dark Side.” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side.