If you feel as though the gloom of the cold winter days has the potential to bring down your mood, you’re not alone. As many as 10 – 20% of Americans claim to feel increased fatigue and depression when there are fewer hours of daylight during the winter. This consequence of less sunlight is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and the percentage of those affected by the disorder increases in the higher latitudes where there are even shorter hours of daylight. Genetics also plays a major role, especially if you have a history of depressive disorders, and studies show that it is four times more common in women than in men.
While you can spend the winter months in melancholy, it can have a serious effect on your health. Those suffering from SAD may experience symptoms such as overeating, loss of interest in activities, decreased physical exercise, and difficulty concentrating.
To beat the wintertime blues – even if it’s not full-blown SAD, you can start a preventative approach.
Ways that you can alleviate symptoms are:
Allow in more morning sunlight. Your winter blues will be worst in the morning, so open up your curtains to allow natural light in while you are waking.
Maintain your normal schedule. Just because it’s cozier inside, don’t neglect the activities that you already do. You’ll feel better with a sense of accomplishment and the social aspect that comes with maintaining routine.
Take this time to get in more exercise. During an intense workout, the brain releases endorphins resulting in an overall sense of happiness. A meta-review published in the American College of Sports Medicine Journal in 2013 suggested that, for some individuals, exercise might be comparable to therapy or anti-depressants as an effective treatment for depression.
Buy a light box. Research shows that the bright light emitted from a light box helps the body wake up and improve mood.
Stop eating sugary foods. As we all know, eating too much sugar will cause weight gain, but did you know that higher sugar consumption correlates to higher rates of depression? Scientists believe that too much sugar can impair the body’s ability to combat stress and can worsen anxiety.
Spend more time outdoors. Although it may be more intuitive to spend the winter indoors, studies show that even spending at least five minutes outside can boost your mood.
Find wintertime activities. Despite the fact that there are no fun beach activities, there is still plenty to do this winter! Find a new passion, whether it is ice skating or a new fitness class, to keep yourself engaged.
Practice relaxation exercises. Studies on mediation and yoga reveal that mindful breathing exercises can alter the neural networks of the mind and decrease stress.
Take a trip! Just because you’re living in a winter environment doesn’t mean that you have to stay there. The excitement that comes from a pending trip can beat back any winter blues. Taking a break can offer a boost to mental health.
While taking a break is nice, enjoy the winter wonderland in your own backyard!
*If you find yourself suffering from significant distress or have trouble performing everyday activities like functioning at work or maintaining healthy relationships, it is time to see a professional for an evaluation