February can be one of the coldest months of the year. And even though the days are slowly getting longer, it still feels dark, dreary, and hard to manage. You may feel excessively lethargic and apathetic this time of year, which doesn’t help you achieve your New Year resolutions or other life goals you’ve created. But you can counter the February blues with these seven mental health tips.
1. Spend time with friends and family
Relationships can be one of the best ways to maintain health and happiness any time of the year. But in the darkest and coldest days of the year, it’s paramount you buddy up instead of isolating. Social scientists have long studied the effects of relationships on health.
One study showed that formal and informal social ties influenced individuals to make better health choices like exercise, eating nutritionally dense foods, and not smoking. Scientists believe that relationships influence or help you control your behavior through a sense of responsibility and accountability. Plus, social ties create a set of social values or norms that help to create a certain standard of behavior, which proves to be better for you.
Aside from these physical health benefits, social ties are a boost to an overall sense of well-being. Feeling supported by others, especially during troubling times, can undoubtedly help you relieve stress and engender lightheartedness.
Aromatherapy can be a natural and subtle yet effective way to deal with mental health problems during this time of year. Studies show that essential oils have a antidepressant effects, but not all oils have been studied.
For instance, lavender, bergamot, wild ginger, ylang ylang, and rose oil help to improve mood and ease any tension or anxiety. Other oils like frankincense, jasmine, sweet orange, chamomile, grapefruit, and neroli don’t have studies to support effectiveness. But plenty of individuals report feeling soothed by the use of these oils.
The good news: no side effects (for most people). You’ll need to make sure you don’t have any allergies before use though. Some report allergies such as sneezing or sniffling similar to what you’d expect with outdoor allergies as these are plants. But other than that, the use of essential oils is essentially harmless and worth a try even if it’s only a placebo effect.
3. Move your body
Lethargy is an interesting beast. Often tiredness begets more tiredness. Do you remember learning in science class about inertia? An object in motion tends to stay in motion while an object at rest tends to stay at rest. The same concept applies to your February blue mood, lethargy. Don’t let fatigue and lethargy keep you from moving your body.
There is plenty of science to support the effectiveness of exercise on mood. You can experience a boost to your mood within five minutes of moderate-level exercise. And further research shows that exercise helps to ward off even long-term depression.
Maybe a high-intensity interval training class isn’t in order if you’re really feeling the fatigue. But a good paced walk in nature can do wonders. Especially if you get out on a rare sunny day and be among the bare trees.
4. Practice presence
Every year February happens. It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s lonely. Do you love this time of year or hate it? Is it associated with bad feelings or memories? Do you often mask how you’re feeling with television, booze, or food? Make this year the year that you begin the practice of presence and observation of yourself in each season. And this winter season is a great season to start.
When you connect with your relationship to the seasons you learn things about yourself and you can better prepare to deal with the challenges of each season. So if this season is notoriously challenging for you, then practice bringing your full attention to how you feel in each moment.
Instead of binging on Netflix or eating too much food, ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” Be present with whatever feelings arrive. Do something different than what you normally do. Avoiding your feelings won’t make them go away or make you feel better.
You need to be gentle and compassionate with yourself as well as loving and tender. Embrace yourself and all your feelings. And then do something that will nurture your tender heart through this challenging time. Choose one thing from this list or ask your heart what would feel good to do in that moment.
5. Watch funny movies
You can never go wrong with humor. Humor provokes laughter. And laughter engages your core muscles as well as the muscles of your face. You’re forced into a smile which influences the chemicals released in your brain and your mood. And when you’re full of laughter you can’t help but feel good.
If you need some downtime on the sofa, then watch a funny movie. You can also browse Pinterest for funny memes. Or listen to podcast comedy shows. Never underestimate the power of humor to bring up your spirits.
6. Stay on schedule
This may be the time of year you’ll most want to call in sick for work to try to get out of your funk. But that could do more harm than good. Calling in when you’re not truly sick has several potentially negative effects. For one, work and life commitments engender a sense of purpose and responsibility. Plus, it keeps you active while you interact and engage with people around you, even if it’s all formal social connections.
These daily or weekly routines can seem monotonous and mundane. But if you’re feeling wonky, off-kilter, or generally unwell, then a routine can be the perfect solution to keeping you on track and stable. Do work, chores, and errands all like you normally would. Only take days off if you’re truly sick. A change in schedule can throw you into a deeper spiral of depression and irritability if you’re already feeling mentally unstable.
7. Get some light
One of the biggest problems with this time of year is the lack of sunlight. About 41% of Americans are already deficient in Vitamin D, a vitamin created through your skin’s contact with sunlight. In the north, you’re probably familiar with the lightbox. Another form of light stimulation that could be good for your emotional well-being is the dawn stimulator. It’s a form of an alarm clock that simulates the rising sun. So while it’s still dark outside you can rise with the sun at whatever time you decide.
In addition to artificial light, you should still take advantage of any shining sun during these days despite the cold. Spend 10 minutes outside soaking up the sun whenever possible. Combine this with exercise and you can have double the health effects. Add on a vitamin D3 supplement and you’ll be set!
[Blog first published on Care2.com]