Rigorous scientific research has shown that winter’s shorter days, less intense sunlight, and later dawns are the main cause of the winter blues or SAD (seasonal affective disorder). The effects on individuals can be low energy, hypersensitivity, moodiness, and more. The great news is that there are some strategies for warding off and lessening the effects of a long winter.
10 Ways to Give the Winter Blues the Boot
1. Light therapy. Try sitting or working near a light box to mimic sunlight and reset your body’s clock. A light box emitting full-spectrum light of 10,000 lux can decrease the duration of melatonin release in the brain while increasing serotonin and other positivity-boosting neurotransmitters. This allows the body’s regular rhythm of waking and sleeping to be restored. You might also experiment with using a ‘wake-up light’ alarm clock.
2. Exercise. Exercise and other types of physical activity help relieve stress and anxiety and can energize your body and your mood by increasing dopamine.
3. Medications. Some people with SAD benefit from antidepressant treatment, especially if symptoms are severe. If SAD is recurrent, your doctor may recommend starting treatment with an antidepressant before your symptoms typically begin each year (early- to mid-fall).
4. Psychotherapy. Talk therapy can help with identifying and changing negative thoughts and behaviors, learning how to manage stress, and learning healthy ways to live well and cope with SAD.
5. Food & supplements. Eating consciously can make a big difference in mood. Foods with lots of omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and walnuts, help the brain use serotonin more efficiently. An omega-3 supplement can help keep the brain in balance. Taking a Vitamin D supplement can offset decreased sun. Avoiding simple carbs and maintaining stable blood sugar can also help.
6. Make your environment sunnier and brighter. Open your curtains and blinds, trim tree branches and bushes that block sunlight from coming in your house, and sit close to bright windows as often as you can.
7. Go outside. Take a walk, play with your dog, eat lunch at a park, or just sit on a bench and soak up the sun. Bundle up – even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help.
8. Mindfulness. Energizing yoga practices and conscious, meditative activities can help increase mental clarity during dark days.
9. Sleep. “It’s important to keep in sync with nature’s rhythms,” says Henry Emmons, MD, an integrative psychiatrist who recommends getting up at the same time every day, ideally between 6 and 8 a.m. This way you’ll have more chance to enjoy the sunlight that is available during the darker months.
10. Appreciate the wonders of winter. Big dramatic skies, bright snow blankets, cold moons, and the warmth and coziness of going home. Give yourself some time to look around and feel the beauty of this winter season…that soon will make spring possible.
And great news - here in Michigan, we're having a sunny week!
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