SEASONAL TIPS

Have the Winter Blues?
Try These Tips

If you live in a colder climate, the seemingly endless winter may put you in a funk. Check out some ways that others with MG try to melt away the winter blues.

The last long stretch of winter may be challenging for even the most stoic northerner. The cold. The dark. The extended time spent indoors. Winter can get old quickly once you pack away the holiday decorations and glance at the calendar. For some, this can lead to a funk commonly referred to as the “winter blues.”

The shorter days and less sunlight that come with winter may contribute to winter blues. This is because a decrease in bright light may affect your biological rhythm, or your body’s internal clock, which may lead you to feeling less energetic and wanting to sleep more than usual.1

For people living with myasthenia gravis (MG), worsening symptoms could also contribute to the winter blues. If you think you are experiencing the winter blues and it’s negatively affecting your day-to-day activities, it’s important to talk to your doctor about what you are feeling. You could be experiencing signs of depression, which can be serious and should be discussed with a doctor.1

If it turns out you are in a funk, there are several tips from others with MG that may help fend off the winter blues until springtime.

Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule

Having regular awake and sleep times may help stabilize your body clock. You may want to try waking within the same hour every day, even on days when you don’t need to get up at a certain time.

Stephanie, who hails from Washington, says she starts each day at 6:30 am to get as much daylight as possible during shorter winter days. She follows a regular routine each day and goes to bed at a regular time too.

“After I wake up, I do the same things every day, including eating breakfast and working from home,” she said. “At night I have a routine too, which includes working a little on a language-learning app. It tells my body it’s time to slow down and go to bed.”

Interact with Others

Connecting with others can be another way to try to boost your mood. Whether it is with the people in your household, or with others virtually, it’s important to maintain some social interaction during the winter months.

“Especially this year with COVID-19, our friends and families need connection as much as we do,” said Jennifer Rough, PhD, a psychologist and expert in winter blues and winter depression. “We all benefit. We are all in this together. If you can’t be with people you love, consider scheduling a time each day to talk with a friend or family member, either by phone, real-time text or videoconference.”

Alicia, who lives in New York, prioritizes her well-being by socializing with others and caring for herself.

“I make sure to stay connected to family and friends,” she said. “But when I’m not interacting with others, I do my best to practice self-care, both physically and emotionally. I take time each day to do something I enjoy, and I meditate when I can.”

Chris lives in a warmer winter climate, in Florida, but often feels the isolation of social distancing. But he’s surrounded by strong family support at home that helps keep his spirits up.

“My daughters and parents are around me, and I enjoy them,” he said. “When I play with my granddaughter, I easily can lose track of time and shed some of those winter blues.”

I take time each day to do something I enjoy.

Alicia
New York

Engage in Activities You Enjoy

Try to find something—a hobby, volunteer work or family time—that you enjoy and is meaningful to you. Then try to keep at it, even for 10 minutes a day, because activities that you enjoy may help energize you over time.

“We often underestimate the impact of doing things we enjoy on our emotional health and well-being,” said Dr. Rough. “Fun activities—even ‘old-fashioned’ ones like reading a book, writing or listening to relaxing music—may help reduce your stress day to day. The challenge in winter is just to do it, even when you’re feeling tired in the moment. You will often feel better later for having done it.”

Stephanie regularly holds virtual game nights with friends over Zoom. When she’s not socializing, she likes to paint landscapes using paint-by-number sets. It’s a great winter substitute for one of her favorite hobbies, photography.

Step Outside and Into the Sunlight

Even if you’re not a winter enthusiast, try to make the most of what the season offers.

“If you are able and if weather permits, try to step outside when the sun is shining, and even when it’s cloudy,” said Dr. Rough. “Midday sunshine may provide a real boost in your mood.”

Victor, who lives in Illinois, agreed that getting outside is a great way to keep his spirits high.

“I like to walk, enjoy the fresh air and exercise,” he said. “Nature can do wonders, both mentally and spiritually. If you can, and if weather cooperates, go outside and take advantage of what nature and the world offers. Feel the bracing wind. If you see a neighbor or friend, say hello or wave.”

When he’s feeling cooped up, Chris said that walking outside, getting fresh air and looking at the ocean or a sunset brings him a sense of serenity.

“Just sitting on a bench and watching birds, squirrels and turtles does good for the soul,” he said.

If you can’t go outside or choose not to, you may want to try spending at least a couple of hours a day next to a window during daylight hours. Julia, who lives in Washington, said that getting some light helps her manage the fatigue she feels during winter.

We need to be as kind to ourselves as we are to others.

Jennifer Rough, PhD, psychologist and expert in the winter blues
Washington

Exercise or Move Around

Engaging in some type of physical movement may also help reduce stress in both the body and mind.2

“More of us are inside and sedentary right now due to COVID-19 and winter,” said Dr. Rough. “Do what makes sense for your body—either gentle movement or light exercise. The important thing is to exercise at a level that is safe and doable for you. To help fend off winter blues, you may want to try morning exercise. It can help provide an added boost to your mood, energy and alertness throughout the rest of the day.”

Even if it’s just for a few minutes a day, incorporating some light exercise into your daily routine can improve your sense of well-being on cold winter days. Consider starting small, perhaps just stretching or walking around the house, and go from there. Be sure to talk to your care team before starting or making any changes to a fitness routine.

Prep Nutritional Meals

You may also want to consider meal prepping, or cooking your meals in advance, for winter days when you may not be up to cooking. You can create a meal-prep plan that matches your energy, schedule, cooking ability and food preferences.

Stephanie does just that with the help of a nutritional meal-planning app.

“I make sure I have plenty of food prepped in the freezer during winter. We just pop it in the oven when I’m not able to cook. I’ll make two casseroles that are nutritional and easy to eat—one for this week and one for when I’m not able to cook. If I make homemade soup, I’ll freeze half of it.”

I make sure I have plenty of food prepped in the freezer during winter.

Stephanie
Washington

Limit Evening Screen Time

Bright light, especially blue spectrum light from computer screens and smartphones, may suppress the hormone that help us fall asleep in the evening.3 Consider limiting blue light exposure two hours before bedtime or set a regular time to turn off all electronics.

Practice Gratitude

Be sure to talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing signs of depression. Also consider these tips for the winter blues and make sure you give yourself some grace.

“Winter is challenging, and this past year has been hard for many of us. We need to be as kind to ourselves as we are to others,” Dr. Rough said. “It helps to notice a couple of things you are grateful for each day. Anything—big or small—from enjoying a funny moment to being grateful for our warm home and loved ones.”

One thing to be grateful for is that, before long, springtime will be here.

References

  1. Melrose S. Depress Res Treat. 2015;2015:178564.
  2. Mayo Clinic. Stress management. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469. Updated August 18, 2020. Accessed January 18, 2021.
  3. Tähkämö L, et al. Chronobiol Int. 2019;36(2):151-170.

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