Autumn is upon us! As the days grow shorter and our exposure to sunlight decreases, some people get the “winter blues.” Because of changes in certain brain chemicals in the winter months, people who suffer from the winter blues can experience changes in their mood, energy level, and their ability to concentrate. It can feel harder to get up and get going in the mornings, more difficult to think creatively, and even more difficult to do ordinary tasks that seem easy or even enjoyable in the summertime.
But the winter months can still be a great time to stop smoking, thanks to what we know about strategies that can help. The National Institute of Mental Health has published guidelines for coping with the winter blues, and many of these are also strategies that have been shown to help people stop smoking.
Get some exercise.
Tackle the blues and tobacco dependence at the same time, by having some fun! Take a brisk walk, go skiing, sledding, or snow-shoeing. Multiple studies have shown the benefits of even moderate exercise in helping people combat the winter blues, cope with urges to smoke, and deal more effectively with stress.
Choose the right foods.
Stopping smoking, as well as the winter blues, can cause some people to crave junk food and soft drinks. These snacks are often high in carbohydrates, which can temporarily improve your mood because they affect those same chemicals in the brain. A better strategy is to choose healthy carbohydrate-rich foods such as whole grain pastas and brown rice which provide sustained energy.
Take a look at your sleep schedule.
If you tend to be a night-owl, making an effort to get to bed earlier and get up a little earlier in the morning can make a difference. Research shows that sleeping on a regular schedule, not more that eight hours at a time, and exposing yourself to the morning sun can improve your outlook.
The “winter blues” do not have to stop you from having a fabulous smoke-free winter season. Share your ideas for staying active, eating well and catching some rays with others on becomeanex.org.
Winter Blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder,
What it is and how to cure it. (1993).
Norman Rosenthal. New York: Guilford Press.