Fall and winter are a great time for many people - but for others this is a time of deep depression and a feeling of loneliness. If you are one of those people, you may suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or the “winter blues.”
The reasons SAD only affects certain people has scientists baffled, but all experts who study the disorder conclude that people who suffer all have one thing in common- they have a sensitivity to light, or a lack of it.
Many people believe the real issue is that your internal clock is “off” because in winter months the light in the morning is lower, which shifts your circadian rhythm and that tells your body it isn’t time to get up. When you fight against that, you become tired and depressed. There are things, though, that you can do to help alleviate the symptoms of the winter blues.
1. Exercise and Eat a Healthy Diet
It’s an oldie, but a goodie. Exercising and eating healthy foods help beat depression, including the seasonal depression you get in winter. When you eat properly and exercise, your body naturally creates a rhythm and you will have sustained energy. Additionally, exercise releases “feel good” endorphins in your brain, which makes you- well, feel good! Even a 30 minute workout daily (even one done in your own home) can improve your mood.
During the winter months, your body wants “comfort” food. This is food that’s usually high in fat and sugars and can help make you lazy. Laziness results in more depression, though, so these types of foods should be avoided when possible. That is tough, being faced with holiday meals.
The best way to balance eating right and eating comfort foods is moderation. Fill your daily diet with fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and lots of water for sustained energy from natural sugars. When you are invited to a holiday party or dinner, moderate your intake of foods like rice, white breads, and sweets. They have no real nutrients and will zap your energy quickly.
2. Get Some Sun
You need as much sun as you can get to help with the winter blues. But simply getting more sun isn’t enough. You should get as much in the morning as possible to help reset your circadian rhythm, and artificial light does count. Bright lamps and even tanning beds can help. Taking Vitamin D is also a great way to combat SAD, because sunlight contains lots of Vitamin D. The nutrient releases neurotransmitters in your brain that affect your mood. As you go through your day, sit near windows when you can, sit near bright lights, and keep window shades up during the day.
3. Avoid Alcohol
Alcohol is a “downer,” meaning that it brings your mood down. If you are already down and depressed, you don’t need alcohol making the condition worse. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy an occasional drink, but you should limit your alcohol consumption so that you don’t end up making your condition worse and losing more energy.
4. Relax and Get Some Sleep
If you’re truly tired- relax! If you find yourself falling asleep- sleep! Fighting sleep and putting more on your plate than you already have can make you stressed. Stress drains your energy, and that makes you depressed and even more tired. Plus, a tired brain cannot function as well or process new stresses easily. You need time to relax and catch up on needed sleep. Just don’t sleep the day away, because that can make depression worse, too. Monitor your sleeping patterns and make sure you aren’t giving in to your depression.
5. Do Something Fun
It’s not hard to become a hermit during the winter, especially if you don’t like the cold. Staying inside isn’t good for depression, though. Get up and do something fun, even if that something is an indoor activity. You can even get friends involved to help keep you motivated. When you stay active, your energy levels are good, and you can focus on other things to help take your mind off of being depressed.
6. Get Support From Friends and Family
Your friends and family can be a great source of inspiration when you’re feeling down, especially if they know and understand that you suffer from SAD. Once they are aware of your plight, they can help keep you active, motivated, and focused. Call up a friend, meet your sister for coffee, cook a meal for your mom. Whatever you do, keep people involved and don’t shut yourself out of social activities when you feel depressed.