Beating The Winter Blues by Dr. Debbie Samsom

By Dr. Debbie Samsom – Jan 14th, 2019

So, winter is definitely upon us. Holiday festivities are over, days are short, and the rain seems endless. This is the time of year when many of us can feel blue, down in the dumps, or outright depressed. Good thing there are ways to prevent this, so we can cruise into spring with smiles on our faces.

There is a lot of research out there on how to be happy. This literature has been nicely summarized by Nic Marks, a British researcher, who distilled all the evidence around happiness into 5 key factors, referred to as the 5 Ways to Well Being. These ways are: Connect, Be Physically Active, Take Notice,
Keep Learning, and Give.

Connect – We are, by nature, social beings. Connecting with friends and family is THE most important way to well-being. Last week’s Yard post offers great suggestions for ways to connect, with the added bonus of leaving out the alcohol.

Be Physically Active – Physical activity is great for both our physical and emotional health. The fastest way out of a bad mood is to do something active. Avoid an “all or nothing” approach to activity. A 30- minute workout or walk will do the trick. It doesn’t have to be huge – just get off the couch!

Take Notice – This is about being engaged in both our inner and outer world. It includes concepts such as mindfulness, which is about focusing our awareness on the present moment, slowing things down, and paying attention to and accepting our thoughts and feelings. Taking notice is also about appreciating the beauty of our surroundings. We are so lucky to live on the west coast, where we can hike, cycle, and walk the beaches all year round. Even though it’s January, the earth is beginning to awaken; plants and bulbs are sprouting. Take notice of the natural beauty that surrounds you.

Keep Learning – Most of us have a natural desire to learn and improve ourselves. When it comes to our professional lives, we can feel bored, stale or unsatisfied if we are not learning new things. So at work, look for opportunities to gain knowledge and build skills. If this is not available to you (or even if it is), consider learning opportunities outside of work. What sparks your interest? What will give you a greater sense of purpose?

Give – When we have empathy and do kind things for others, it boosts our mental health. There is plenty of research to support this. In one study, people were given random amounts of money between $10 and $100. Half were told to spend it on themselves, and the other half were told to spend on someone else. The results showed that the amount didn’t make much difference to their feelings of happiness. What did matter was whether they spent it on themselves or someone else. Turns out that “generosity therapy” is much more impactful than “retail therapy”. But giving doesn’t have to be monetary or material. Actively helping others in need is a great happiness promotor. Bottom line: we feel good when we give to others.

These 5 ways to well-being are not new concepts. It’s just that we can now point to a large body of research that supports them. Further, they are most powerful if you find ways to get them to work synergistically together. Not only will engaging in the 5 ways get you through the winter – it will also set you up for great mental health all year round.

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