Now that the days are getting shorter, colder, and the sun is shining less, sadness may creep into our daily mood more often. In fact, it’s not uncommon for many of us to begin to feel ‘the winter blues’ this time of year.
However, some experience more intense feelings known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD. This is a form of depression that lasts for a specific season of the year, typically the winter months, and goes away the rest of the year. During this time a person may experience the following symptoms: loss of interest in activities they typically enjoy, feeling sad most of the day, feeling easily fatigued, having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, and/or increased feelings of hopelessness or guilt. If your winter blues are more intense, like described above, and have occurred for at least two winters, you may have SAD. There is research supporting treatment for SAD, so be sure to reach out to us if your winter blues have reached this level of intensity, we are happy to explain more and want to help.
To help combat the winter blues or SAD, the following research supported tips can help:
1. Get as much sun as possible
Exposure to less sunlight is one reason this season can be especially hard on us. Sunlight is known to affect areas of the brain that regulate mood and the sleep-wake cycle, as well as memory functioning. We feel happier and more ‘mentally sharp’ when we are getting consistent sunlight. One effective strategy to keep away the winter blues is to try to get sunlight shortly after you wake up. You can sit by the window while you eat breakfast or open the curtains and blinds after you wake up. Winter outdoor activities and sports can also help us get our daily allotment of rays. Even just a 15 minute walk has a positive impact on mood. Also, many people use a light therapy box to mimic outdoor light. This type of light may cause a chemical change in the brain that lifts your mood and helps decrease the feelings of tiredness and sleeping too much. Typically, a person using light therapy will sit in front of the light box first thing in the morning for a short period of time. Before deciding to start light therapy, it’s best to talk with your health care provider first.
2. Keep active and moving
Physical movement helps our brain produce neurotransmitters that support positive mood. However, as it gets chilly, our physical activity often reduces. As mentioned above, there are plenty of winter activities that can keep you active. Walking or hiking to take in the fall colors or snow-covered trees, skiing, ice skating, or snowshoeing are all great winter activities in Michigan. If being active in the cold isn’t your thing, there are plenty of opportunities for indoor activities: look for sports teams at your local community center, get a gym membership, start practicing yoga, or take a dance class. Any way to get exercise and keep your body moving will help destress and increase your endorphins for a boost of positive feelings.
3. Maintain connections and social support
Research indicates relationships with good communication, shared experiences and regular time spent together positively impact our moods and can make it less likely for the winter blues to turn into depression for you or your children. During the winter months it’s not uncommon to want to stay in and be less active. However, that can make us feel more isolated and make us feel even more down. Plan outings 15-60 days out to ensure you don’t isolate. Keep up with friends and let them know if you are feeling down. People around us often don’t realize or know how we are feeling, but care and want to help.
4. Stick to basics
Eating healthy and getting enough sleep are under-appreciated for maintaining your mental health. The fall season brings copious amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables to farmers markets and is a good time to try a new recipe or two. Making sure you’re eating regular meals and trying to stick to a balanced diet as much as you can during the holidays can help. Family meals are a great time to connect and catch up with each other. Involving children in meal planning or cooking with them can teach them important skills and connect. Getting sunlight first thing in the morning can help stabilize your circadian rhythm, stopping melatonin production to maintain regular sleep and wake times and get you more Vitamin D. Placing an importance on getting enough sleep can help with the fluctuations in mood and help regulate your emotions. It’s hard to be at our best for friends and family when we are not taking care of our physical and emotional needs.
5. Reach out sooner rather than later
If the winter blues last longer than 2 weeks or significantly impact you or your child’s functioning with friends, at school or work, or at home, it’s time to get real support or guidance. We encourage people to reach out before a crisis occurs, so that when difficulties arise, you or your child already have coping strategies and support in place.
If these activities do not help, or your symptoms worsen, contact us or talk to your health care provider.