With the clocks turned back last weekend and the days getting shorter and shorter with each passing day – not to mention the first snow has already fallen before the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday – it’s unfortunately that time of year when many people fall victim to the winter blues.
Like clockwork every year, many experience this mood disorder starting around the end of October, or beginning of November, and lasting through the start of spring. Also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), this condition of the winter blues can include mild depression, low energy, lack of motivation, increased sleep, social withdraw and a tendency to overeat.
Yikes! Not a fun set of symptoms and not a way to live year in and year out. Fortunately, there are preventive steps one can take to stop the winter blues and not fall victim to the Snow Miser. But it will need a conscious effort throughout these months to keep the winter blues at bay.
First, lets take a quick look at SAD and then let’s see what can be down to fight and prevent it from ruining your winter and waistline.
With SAD, the lack of sunlight can cause 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 no, the winter blues is not in your mind; it’s a reality. In fact, approximately a half million of the U.S. population suffers from winter SAD! Three-quarters of the sufferers are women and onset is typically early adulthood. For me, it started in my 20’s.
Ok, how to fight it. I’ve broken it down to easy areas that one can adjust your daily life to conquer their blues.
You have to have a positive state of mind that you will not let the lack of sun effect your mood this year or next or ever! Make a promise to yourself, that this winter, you take the necessary preventive steps to combat this and not succumb. The mind is a powerful thing and can empower you to accomplish anything you set your mind to achieving.
The lack of sun is the main culprit here. Sunlight provides Vitamin D and releases the necessary neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood in a positive manner. Hence, seeing the sun and feeling it’s rays every day is just as important as someone who gets seasick who needs to see the horizon when sailing at sea. So make an effort to get outside every single day – even if it’s bitter cold – and connect with the sun. Soak up that sunlight. Push back your window drapes to let the sun shine into your home and sit near a window when at the office. Also, start your day with a morning walk or run outside and take stroll outside during your lunchtime. You can also try using full spectrum light bulbs at home, which mimic natural light, and invest in a 10,000 lux light box for added light therapy.
Location, location, location! Yes, this definitely makes all the difference in the world for SAD suffers. The farther north from the equator you reside, the greater the risk you are to experiencing some degree of winter depression as SAD is more common with those living in cloudy regions or at high latitudes. Only about 1% of Florida residents have some winter-specific discomfort or depression compared to 10% or more with those living in Pennsylvania and north. So if you can live closer to the equator, than do so. If you can’t, just be ready every season with your fighting attitude and take the necessary steps to combat.
What you eat makes all the difference in the world, especially in the wintertime when the blues can set in and cause weight gain. By all means, try to limit your alcoholic consumption – which can bring you down – and avoid processed and refined foods. While they may feel comforting to a person feeling down, they actually can affect your mood swing and zap your energy levels. So be certain to eat as healthy as you and stay hydrated. Also, keep a food journal, if only for this time of year. “Reporting” should make you more conscious of what you are putting between your lips and help you to stay on track of not overeating.
If you ever need a time to get out and exercise, wintertime is the time! For a minimum of 30 minutes a day every day. Yes, it’s cold outside and the last thing you might want to do is exercise, but you simply must. Exercising will release that much-needed endorphin high, lower your stress, anxiety and depression, and burn calories. You will also gain more energy for your day and a more positive attitude.
Even though bears love to hibernate in the winter, there is no real biological need for people to get extra sleep during the winter despite feeling sleepier and having less energy. Resist the urge to sleep more. Your body clock is triggered by light and dark so make to make a conscious effort to get your sleeping habits into a regular sleep cycle. Go to bed at approximately the same hour every night and wake up the same time the following morning with a solid 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep.
Final recommendation is to stay connected with family and friends. Remaining active and social interaction is very important, especially at this time of year. So no matter how cold it is outside and how early the sky gets dark, make plans to get out of your home and stay involved with your inner social circles and regular activities. Perhaps now is the time to take up a new hobby or join a new activity group. Snowed in? Make a simple phone call, chat through Skype, get connected with social media, and don’t forget to a walk in the fresh snow with our next-door neighbor. Remember, never underestimate the power of friendships and fun activities!
Follow the above measures every day and your winter blues should be greatly diminished. Note I said “every day” as since this is a seasonal disorder, you will need to follow the above remedies every day until springtime. Skip a day or two and you’ll begin to feel yourself plummet back into the blues. So stay ahead and above. You can do this. You’ve got this!
Be Fit. Be Strong. Be Well.