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Winter Wellness – Avoiding the Seasonal Blues

While winter brings a lot of happy things – holidays, warm beverages, favorite traditions, brilliant light displays – it also can bring not-so-great things as well. Many people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the winter months, which leaves them feeling fatigued, lethargic and – sad. And not to put a damper on things … but this winter, in particular, will probably be a difficult one.

“Winter can already be hard for seniors with the short days, cold weather and isolation, and that’s going to be ramped up even further due to COVID-19,” says Kristine Tilton, Executive Director of Waterstone at Wellesley. “Now that holiday gatherings are being canceled or reduced, and friends and family are staying apart, it’s more important than ever to take charge of our mental health and boost wellness during this trying time.”

What’s the difference between being bored, lonely or sad and depression? After all, many people can feel low energy during the winter months. However, there are big differences between being blue and being depressed. While the symptoms can vary from person to person, here are some watch-fors to clue you or a loved one into the fact that mental health needs to be made a priority:

  • You’re constantly sad or negative
  • You become angry at insignificant things
  • You feel like your brain is in a fog and it’s hard to concentrate
  • You’re using food or alcohol as a crutch
  • You’re withdrawing from social interaction (even safe social interaction)
  • You’re excessively exhausted no matter how much rest you get

“The good news is that there are many resources available for people to get help with depression – seasonal and otherwise,” says Kristine. She also says that there are many things you can do yourself to reduce the symptoms of winter blues and increase your mental health and overall wellness. Here are some of the top ways you can increase your wellness this winter and banish the seasonal woes as much as possible.

1. Let the light in.

One of the reasons people experience SAD is due to the change in natural light levels. Our circadian rhythms (also known as our sleep-wake cycles) are affected by sunlight, and when we don’t get enough natural light during the day, our rhythm is hijacked, which makes it hard to get a good night’s sleep. Low levels of light can also decrease the amount of serotonin – the happy hormone – in our brains. In order to keep things seeming sunny, literally, it’s important to get a daily dose of sunshine. Even just 10 to 30 minutes a day of natural sunlight can boost your vitamin D levels, and thus, your mood. While going outside when it’s literally freezing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, you can also sit by a window during a sunny day and get the same effect. You can also purchase artificial light boxes that emit light that’s close to the natural sunlight spectrum.

2. Take a deep breath.

The phrase “slow down and take a breath” isn’t just lip service. Purposeful breathing exercises have proven to reduce stress levels almost instantly. (It’s one of the many reasons why meditation, yoga and tai chi can be so beneficial to mood as well). If you feel yourself becoming depressed, stressed or angry, stop and take a deep breath. Practicing breathing throughout the day will help slow your heart rate, reduce your blood pressure, lower the cortisol levels in your body and provide you an opportunity to free your mind of the thoughts that are troubling you.

3. Take time to do something you love.

It’s hard to feel good about yourself when you aren’t being kind to yourself. That’s why it’s important to do something nice for yourself every day, whether it’s an activity you love or a special treat just for you. Doing pleasurable things produce dopamine in your brain, which are our “reward” for doing enjoyable activities. Whether you’re inspired by reading a book, performing a hobby, getting your nails done or having lunch with a friend, it’s good to take those moments and treat ourselves. Your body and mind will thank you.

4. Reach out.

One thing we’ve all learned in 2020 is that we are social creatures, and we crave connection in every way, shape and form. Make sure that you’re cultivating and nurturing your friendships and relationships during this time. Pick up the phone, schedule a Zoom call or shoot a text to someone you haven’t seen recently. You won’t just be cheering yourself up – you’ll be sending a smile and happiness to that other person, too.

5. Get a good night’s sleep.

Think of a good night’s sleep as your body’s “reset” button. Sleep helps us heal, improves our mental capabilities, gives us more energy and is just overall a good thing. Make sure that your room is set up for sleeping success by keeping it dark, somewhat cool and a safe haven. That means taking out screens like TVs and, yes, even tablets. Limit the amount of screen time you have before bed, and don’t drink caffeine or alcohol too late in the evening, as that can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule.

6. Work up a sweat.

Getting enough exercise is one of the most important things you can to do improve your overall health – physical, mental and emotional. Exercise increases dopamine in your body, boosts your blood flow, keeps your joints limber and loose, improves muscle tone … you name it. Strive for 30 minutes of exercise five times a week at a minimum. Remember that you don’t have to run a marathon to get the benefits; a walk around the block or going up and down the stairs regularly adds up, too.

7. Count your blessings.

’Tis the season to be thankful, after all, and taking the time to think about things you’re grateful for will provide remaining results. One way you can do this is by keeping a gratitude journal and writing down five or ten things you’re thankful about before you go to bed. Not only does this help you take stock of the good in your life, but it also puts you in an optimistic and thankful mindset before you drift off to sleep.

Beautiful Riverfront Community

Located on the banks of the Charles River, Waterstone is Wellesley’s only senior living community, offering premier independent and assisted living. But that’s only the first of many differences that sets Waterstone above and beyond other communities.

 Celebrating Dynamic Living

Here our residents live independently in their own private, spacious apartments – but without any of the worries or concerns of homeownership or living alone. All meals are expertly prepared. There aren’t any chores to be concerned with. No home maintenance or repairs to worry about. Just opportunities around every corner and time to spend as they choose – in the company of new friends.

Our vibrant community encourages residents to engage in a variety of recreational, cultural and social programs and activities. Enjoy a fitness class. Swim in the sunny indoor pool. Take a stroll on a walking path. Partake in a favorite hobby or pastime. Discover a new interest. With Waterstone at Wellesley, there’s a world of opportunity waiting right outside our residents’ doors.

 Confidence of Care

The hallmark of Waterstone assisted living is the peace of mind we provide both our residents and their families. Knowing that care and support is available right on site instills a sense of confidence and calm one can’t find living alone.

For prospective residents or their families interested in residing at Waterstone at Wellesley, please contact us at 781.591.7113.