Getting Through Winter in Recovery

By Published On: February 8th, 2024Categories: Blog, Mental Health, NERC / Spectrum, Treatment / Recovery

Getting Through Winter in Recovery

While some people embrace the arrival of winter, it can be a challenging season to endure—both mentally and physically. As days get shorter and temperatures drop, it becomes more difficult to maintain healthy exercise habits, attend social outings, and seek support.

These changes can result in a number of symptoms, impacting a person’s behavior, mood, sleep cycle, appetite, and other aspects of their life in serious ways. Maintaining awareness of one’s needs and following an effective routine can go a long way towards staying healthy and happy during the winter.

A Tough Time of Year

The clinical term for a mental health condition brought on by the changing of the seasons is seasonal affective disorder (SAD). People experiencing SAD often feel anxious, pessimistic, irritable, restless, or helpless. Physical symptoms can include oversleeping, poor or irregular appetite, fatigue, and social withdrawal among other things.

What makes SAD especially detrimental is that the isolation it causes only serves to exacerbate the individual’s feelings of sadness and loneliness. This can make it even harder for them to re-establish healthy recovery habits.

Handling the Holidays

Another thing that can make winter difficult for people in recovery is the holidays. It’s a time of year that’s meant to signal joy and good fortune, but the holidays can also bring financial strain, family stress, and other potential triggers.

Many people report feeling anxious and overwhelmed during this time, putting them at an increased risk of facing recovery setbacks. This makes it an especially important time to prioritize one’s recovery needs.

Fending Off the Winter Blues

Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom. SAD and the various triggers that come with winter may not have a simple cure, but considering the following can help those in recovery stay on track when the days are short and cold:

  • Eat healthy: Maintaining steady eating habits is vital for regulating mood and energy levels. Outlining a simple dietary plan and scheduling meals at a certain time each day can prevent unhealthy eating habits from developing.
  • Feel the sun: When possible, getting natural sunlight can help maintain physical and mental health. Sunlight provides numerous benefits, such as reinforcing the body’s circadian rhythm. Individuals receiving limited sunlight exposure in the winter can talk to their doctor about using a therapy light or taking a vitamin D supplement.
  • Get good sleep: Getting at least seven hours of sleep and keeping a regular sleep schedule promote a better and more stable mood. Avoiding caffeine late in the day and reducing daytime naps can make it easier to fall asleep at night.
  • Stay active: It can be hard to get out and exercise when the world is cold and dark, but staying physically active is still crucial. It’s important to remember that exercise doesn’t need to be rigorous or difficult to be effective—it just needs to be consistent. When temperatures are manageable, getting outside and taking a jog or bike ride can be helpful. Going to a gym, yoga studio, indoor pool, or climbing gym are good options when temperatures are too cold for outdoor activity. Even following an at-home yoga or fitness routine or using a health app can make consistent activity more attainable.
  • Reach out: Staying connected to one’s support circle is also critical in the winter. When it’s too cold to get out and spend time with people, phone calls and video calls can make it easier to stay in touch. Following a meeting schedule that is at least semi-regular can be a great defense against slipping into isolation.

Here Comes the Sun

For those who dread the winter, it’s important to remember that it won’t last forever. It can be tough to get through the freezing temperatures and the long, dark nights, but like all seasons, these things are only temporary. It may require some added vigilance—and lots of layers—but the cold can be conquered.

By following a routine and staying connected to others, anyone can make winter a bit more manageable.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction or co-occurring disorders, call the New England Recovery Center today at 1-877-MyRehab.

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