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Winter is Coming: Tips to Preserve Your Mental Health Against the Cold

By Mikayla Alexander

Photo via someecards

Winter is coming and fortunately for us, this does not signal an army of White Walkers, but it may cause a chemical imbalance due to less sunlight. For those who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), wintertime can be just as harrowing as for those in the Game of Thrones universe. The sun is an active provider of vitamin D, so when less exposure occurs the serotonin levels of the brain can decrease. If you experience symptoms of seasonal depression during this time, it may sound enticing to burrow under your covers and hibernate like bats and bears. Although it is important to take time to rest, here are some ways to help maintain your serotonin as you go through the upcoming months.  

  1. First and foremost, speak to a healthcare provider, if you have not already.  

For many, speaking to a healthcare provider may be a privilege. There may be a lack of access due to insurance or finances, but if you have the means to do so, seeking professional help is key. Not only will you have someone to talk to about your mental health or life struggles, but they will have well-informed suggestions based on your wants and needs for treating your symptoms. If that is something you may benefit from, Psychology Today is a great place to start that allows you a personalized search based on issues, insurance, neighborhoods, sexuality, etc. The Counseling and Social Advocacy Center at UMSL also offers a variety of counseling services, in which the first session is free. They have a fee chart for the following sessions as well as financial assistance opportunities. If that is not an option for you, do not worry, there are still simple and inexpensive ways to improve your mood. 

2. Increase your vitamin D intake.  

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) suggests natural light therapy and eating certain foods. Spending about 30 minutes to two hours a day in the sun allows your body to absorb vitamin D and can increase your mood. Even though it may be getting cold, look out for the sunny days and take advantage of them as much as possible. You can also eat foods such as salmon, trout, and mushrooms which offer a proper amount of vitamins to increase intake. A tablespoon of cod liver oil offers a higher vitamin content, but it may not be the tastier option. 

3. Make time to do the things you like! 

Many of us on campus have different things to juggle aside from being a student such as work or taking care of family. It may feel impossible to carve out some time for yourself in ways that bring you joy, but giving time back to yourself is a great way to improve your mood. Take just a few minutes to write down hobbies or leisurely activities you enjoy and try to spend at least an hour or two out of your week doing them. It can be as simple as reading the book you’ve been putting off, talking to a close friend, watching your comfort show, completing a puzzle, or writing a poem. Journaling and writing about how you feel is another way to relieve mental stress that can further impact your mood.   

4. Incorporate time to exercise.

Exercise certainly does not have to be like the intense weightlifting you may see in a workout routine video. Physical activity has been a trusted method of helping improve long-term depression symptoms and is also effective for short-term symptoms from SAD. Physical activity can look like yoga, Pilates, stretching, spin cycling, climbing stairs, or dancing. Physical activities that encourage you to be outside are even better, allowing you a chance to spend time in the sun if it is out. You could go for a run, a bike ride, a short walk, or even better- a hike to see a nice view at a resting point.  

This season may not be easy for those who struggle with seasonal affective disorder, especially those without access to professional help. Even if you cannot get professional help or do not feel ready to, there are small ways that you can change your routine during the winter to make up for perceived decreases in mood. Be kind to yourself and make time to try out at least one of the tips and incorporate it into your routine. This time of year does not always have to be a hard one! 


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