As the winter continues, some of you may find that your mood is falling as fast at the thermometer. If you are starting to feel like that strong pot of coffee isn’t enough to get you going in the morning, you are not alone.
When it’s cold, dark and nasty outside about 11 million Americans have a more severe form of winter depression or seasonal affective disorder, according to WebMD. Estimates are that one in ten Minnesotans are affected by seasonal affective disorder, according to a report by WCCO.
But you should know there is a difference to having the winter blues or having seasonal affective disorder (SAD). According to WebMD, someone with winter doldrums may have difficulty getting out of bed, while someone with SAD can’t get to work on time.
With SAD, the lack of sunlight causes your brain to work overtime producing melatonin, the hormone that regulates your body clock and sleep patterns and a hormone that has been linked to depression. So the farther north from the equator you live, the more likely you’ll have some degree of winter depression.
So How Do You Ease The Seasonal Slump?
The body takes a cue from the sunlight, especially in the morning. The solution to help is get as much sunlight as possible.
- Lighting – Regular indoor lighting has no effect. To compensate, it is recommended to purchase and artificial “sunbox” with special florescent tubes that mimic the sun’s beneficial rays. You should use the sunbox for about 30 minutes first thing in the morning. Opening blinds and curtains, trimming back tree branches, and sitting closer to windows can also help provide an extra dose of sunshine.
- Eat Smarter – Certain foods like chocolate can help enhance your mood and relieve
anxiety. Avoid processed foods; refined sugar and processed fructose are known to have a very detrimental impact on your brain function and mental health in general. Instead, you should focus on eating fresh, whole foods.
- Exercise – Walking fast for 35 minutes a day five times a week or 60 minutes a day three times a week has been proven by a study from Harvard University to improve symptoms of mild to moderate depression.
- Vitamins – Taking a vitamin D supplement can help improve your mood. Vitamin D deficiency is very common, and should be a top consideration when you’re looking for more energy or to brighten your mood—especially if it occurs during fall and winter months. It is recommended to get tested by your doctor before you start taking supplemental vitamin D. B vitamins, especially B12, have been shown to help those suffering from feelings of anxiety or depression.
- Crank the tunes – A recent study showed that listening to upbeat or cheery music can improve mood both for the short term and long term.
- Plan a trip – If you can afford it, head to some place sunny during the months of January or February. Research shows that the simple act of planning a vacation causes a significant increase in overall happiness.
- Volunteer – If you are strapped for cash, the simple act of helping out others can improve mental health and life satisfaction. Volunteer at a local shelter serving food or lend a hand to someone in need.
- Get outside – So, this idea may not sound desirable when the weather is cold, but spending time outdoors can help improve focus, reduce symptoms of SAD and lower stress levels.
- Don’t hibernate – Keeping social by forcing yourself to go to parties and meeting up with friends and family can help brighten your mood.
- Sleep – Keep a set sleep schedule – even on weekends. As much as sleeping in sounds amazing, you will feel more accomplished by getting up early and getting things done earlier in the day. Plus it leaves you more time for social activities.
Those with seasonal affective disorder usually come out of it once the days start really getting longer in April and May.
Seek Professional Help
Even though some people might dismiss SAD as mere “winter blues,” there’s no shame in seeing a therapist or doctor if your symptoms get worse. Your health professional will walk you through your options, which might include a regimen of light therapy, psychotherapy, or anti-depression medication.