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To minimize the effects of SAD, it is vital to get at least one hour of natural or artificial sunlight every day.

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Beating the Wintertime Blues

Tips From a Mental Wellness Professional to Help Get Through Cold, Short Winter Days

For many people, especially outdoors enthusiasts, winter is the best time of the year. They embrace the cold, crisp weather, choosing to spend their time skiing, sledding and relaxing by roaring fireplaces.

However, for others, winter is a bleak and depressing season. Arriving after the excitement of the holidays has ended, the cold temperatures and short periods of daylight in January and February can adversely impact mental health, particularly in those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. SAD can manifest itself in different forms, ranging from mild cases of the blues to full-blown wintertime depression, making life miserable for those affected.

Fortunately, there are effective techniques for combating SAD and other wintertime ailments.

Numerous mental health agencies and professionals are available across Middle Tennessee to help sufferers deal with mental health issues, including SAD. One of the best in the area is the Davidson County Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI is the largest organization in the country dedicated to the well-being of individuals and families who are directly impacted by mental illness issues.

Founded in 1979, NAMI has grown from a small grassroots concept to a nationwide organization of over 600 chapters that help thousands of people deal with mental health issues each year. Locally, NAMI Davidson is led by Executive Director Robin Nobling, who has many years of experience in dealing with mental health issues, including SAD.

“SAD can be debilitating for many people during the winter months, but it doesn’t have to be,” says Robin. “There are many small, yet significant changes that people can make that can dramatically improve their moods and attitudes during this time of year.”

To help those impacted by SAD, Robin offers five tips for thriving during the wintertime.

1.     “Nature tends to quiet down during winter. The newfound quiet provides a good cue to slow down, savor your surroundings and embrace nature. One good idea is to set up a winter bird feeder and watch the birds, either by sitting outside or through a window from inside.”

2.     “Regardless of the temperature, bundle up and go outside to get at least one hour of sunlight on sunny days. For gloomy, overcast days, use a readily available therapy lamp to get a healthy dose of artificial sunlight. These lamps are very effective in combatting the effects of SAD. In fact, they are standard equipment in Scandinavian countries where winter daylight is severely limited.”

3.     “Exercise! Pick a regimen that you enjoy and try to get in a workout every day. Whether walking, running, riding a recumbent bike, or taking water aerobics, exercise offers tremendous benefits. Many people with mental health conditions report being symptom-free for two hours after only 30 minutes of exercise.”

4.     “Keep a daily diary/journal or download a mood journaling app. Track your mood and note how it varies with sleep, food intake, weather, socialization and prescribed medications. All of us have our own unique daily cycles/rhythms. Tracking these things consistently for 8 to 12 weeks can help you determine your individual mood swings, and what impacts them.”

5.     “Take time every day for at least ten minutes that is dedicated to meditation, allowing your mind to relax to a quiet state. This quiet period of reflection can take many forms, including walking, listening to soft music, cooking, and sewing – there are no hard and firm rules. Just find and adopt an activity that takes your mind away from your worries.”

While these tips are aimed at combatting wintertime blues, they represent good routines to practice year-round. In today’s stressful world, mental health issues can manifest themselves at any time. Maintaining a strong state of mental wellness demands attention and self-care throughout the year, not just during the winter months.

 “While most of us are quick to take care of loved ones and friends, we often ignore our own needs,” says Robin. “We need to learn to use the same compassion on ourselves that we extend to others. We are worth it.”

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is the largest organization in the country dedicated to the well-being of individuals and families who are directly impacted by mental illness issues. Through its nationwide network of chapters, NAMI offers a variety of services, including support groups, caregiver training and lived experience education. Locally, Hendersonville is served by NAMI Sumner. Individuals and families dealing with mental health issues can contact NAMI Sumner at 615.425.6604. There is also 24x7 assistance available by dialing the new mental health support number 988.

Robin Nobling has been the executive director of NAMI Davidson since 2012. She is a lifelong advocate of frank dialogue to help dispel the myths and stigma surrounding mental illness. As a devoted professional caregiver, Robin strongly encourages her clients to practice self-nurturing and to seek out and cherish impromptu moments of enlightenment and happiness.

  • NAMI Davidson Executive Director talks about the importance of mental wellness.
  • One good way of relieving winter stress is a quiet walk.
  • Exercise, such as group water aerobics, can significantly improve mental health.
  • To minimize the effects of SAD, it is vital to get at least one hour of natural or artificial sunlight every day.