How to Keep the Winter Blues At Bay
For many people, the upcoming winter months mean celebrating snowfall, indulging in holiday treats, and catching up on rest in the midst of slower, shorter days. For others, though, wintertime brings on an entirely different set of experiences; and in many cases, they may not seem to be worth celebrating.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression triggered by a shift in seasons. For most people, seasonal affective disorder starts in the early fall and persists all throughout the winter. It is accompanied by feelings of sadness, sluggishness, and general disinterest in daily activities.
Seasonal affective disorder is thought to be stirred up by reduced levels of sunlight that interrupt the body’s circadian rhythm, increase melatonin production (the sleep hormone), and decrease serotonin production (the happiness hormone).
If you find yourself struggling with seasonal affective disorder, call on the help of your doctor, psychiatrist, and community pharmacist to help you find a path forward. And, with their support, try out a few best practices to keep the winter blues at bay.
Minimized sun exposure is the leading cause of SAD, so light therapy can prove to be an extremely effective treatment.
By sitting in front of a light therapy box for 30 minutes every morning, you can regulate your circadian rhythm, as well as your melatonin and serotonin production. Most people that try light therapy experience relief within 2 weeks.
This winter, fight off feelings of depression with your fork. Eating the right foods can boost your energy and improve your mood during the long months ahead.
The Cleveland Clinic recommends eating carbohydrates that are high in fiber — like whole grains, fresh fruits, and frozen or low-sodium canned vegetables — as well as low-fat proteins. Lean fish, legumes, and low-fat dairy are all recommended.
For dessert, try dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa. Taking a few bites can satisfy your sweet tooth and release endorphins that improve your mood.
Low levels of vitamin D, vitamin B12, and folic acid are associated with symptoms of depression. If you can’t get these nutrients in your food, try supplementing them. One pharmacist also recommends taking additional supplements like 5-HTP, tyrosine, melatonin, SAM-e, and St. John’s Wort.
Before picking anything up, though, talk to your doctor. Then, if you get the green light, find each of these supplements (and more) at the nearest pharmacy.
Among its other health benefits, regular exercise can lighten your mood.
High-intensity exercise like running releases endorphins, and low-intensity exercise like walking supports nerve cell growth in the brain and relieves depression. Next time you’re feeling low, try to get up and get moving.
In the colder months, most people spend less time outdoors. For those with SAD, though, the outdoors are essential. Even if it means bundling up in a coat and gloves, try to spend at least an hour outside every day. The sunshine can give you an added boost of vitamin D and help you feel better faster.
Try taking a walk through the neighborhood or even grabbing a friend to go with you. If you can’t make it outside, try sitting by a window to get your daily dose of natural light.
In the midst of cloudy days and snowy weather, you may not always be able to brighten the world outside. You can brighten it up inside, though. Take a lesson from color theory and surround yourself with shades scientifically proven to boost your mood.
Green creates feelings of balance. Blue generates calmness and contentment. White opens up small, dark spaces and invites light in. Orange creates warmth and energy. Yellow, the color of the sun, evokes feelings of optimism.
Next time you’re out, pick up a new item to spruce up your home or office.
In any mental health matter, support is essential. During the colder months, it’s more important than ever to spend time with the people you love. This includes your friends, family, coworkers, or anyone else that you can rely on in times of trouble.
An honest conversation with caring people can make all the difference.
Not only will snuggling up to your dog, cat, or other furry friend keep you warm this winter, but it can also help improve symptoms of SAD. Cuddling releases serotonin, which relieves symptoms of depression and makes you feel happier. The companionship of a pet can also help you to feel less lonely.
Check out your local animal shelter or adoption agency if you’re on the hunt for a new pet.
When you were a teenager, you might have kept a diary tucked under your bed, filled with explorations of your innermost thoughts and feelings. As you entered adulthood, you might have forgotten the practice. If you struggle with SAD, though, you may want to bring it back.
One study found that expressive writing (journaling) can lead to reduced blood pressure, improved immune system functioning, improved mood, and reduced symptoms of depression in regular writers.
If you want to start journaling, take a few minutes out of every day to scribble down what you’re thinking and feeling. Self-expression is cathartic, and writing is one of the easiest ways to do it.
Even with self-help measures, you may need additional support. Luckily, there are many resources available to you. A professional (or even a few of them) can walk you through your SAD symptoms and help find a treatment that works for you. This may include going to therapy or taking medications like antidepressants.
In any case, it’s best to call on a professional to address your concerns and answer your questions. For questions about therapy, reach out to a licensed psychologist or counselor; and for questions about medications, reach out to your local pharmacist.
With both on your side, you can expect to see improvement before the winter months are up.