As we head into winter here in the Northeast, the days are significantly shorter. On December 21, we had just nine hours and five minutes of daylight. Compare that to roughly 15 hours at the height of the summer, and you can see why we might feel deprived of light.
For those who rely on sunshine to boost their mood, these are rough times. Some suffer from the “winter blues,” while others get a full-on case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
How can you tell the difference between them?
Well, SAD is something of an understatement. SAD is a more than sadness—it can border on a major depressive disorder. People with SAD can suffer difficulty with sleeping and eating, which causes fluctuations in energy levels, weight, and mood. They may isolate themselves from others, abuse drugs or alcohol in an effort to self-medicate, and may even develop suicidal thoughts.
Whether you have SAD or your symptoms aren’t what you’d call severe, you can—and should—take steps to head off the effects of the winter blues before they begin.
One way is to take a “mental vacation.” If you find the news depressing, limit your consumption. If social media disturbs you, take a break from it. If a relative or neighbor drives you crazy, limit contact with him or her. You know your own triggers. Take steps to ward off the things that bring you down.
Another way is to up your activity. Exercise can do wonders to boost your levels of happiness hormones. You don’t need a gym membership, either. A set of hand weights or exercise bands will do. Find routines online or make up your own. Play music that motivates you. Just get moving for 30 minutes most days. You can even break up your exercise into smaller bits throughout the day for quick boosts of energy.
Also, increase your sleep time (maybe). Find the amount of sleep that’s optimal for you, but don’t fall into the trap of sleeping the day away because you are feeling depressed. If you find yourself sleeping significantly longer than usual or napping too frequently during the day, make an effort to back off of the snooze time. Here’s a tip: After a nap, trick your brain into alertness by using some of the cues from your morning routine—a cup of coffee or tea (decaf if caffeine keeps you from falling asleep at night), stretching, checking your email, etc.
Seek out the sun. Any sunlight you can glean from the day will help. Sitting in the window, taking a walk outside, and turning lights on in the house before it gets completely dark may work to keep your energy levels up. If that isn’t enough, making use of a light box every morning can moderate your biological clock and affect production of neurochemicals in the brain. If you’re using a light box, however, make sure to read the instructions carefully and use as directed, or you won’t get the results you’re looking for.
Another way to change your mood is to change your food. Sugary foods, snacks, and beverages may provide a quick pick-me-up, but when the sugar crash comes (and it always does), it can leave you feeling worse than ever. Be sure to include lots of fruits, vegetables, and healthy proteins in your diet. Foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids (salmon, walnuts, olive oil, etc.) as well as those high in vitamin D can help balance your mood, too.
And finally, if your efforts still don’t ward off the blues, consider speaking with your doctor and/or a mental health professional. They can help guide you to more effective strategies.
With a little planning, effort, and determination, you can make it to brighter days no worse for the wear!
Until we meet— Donna