Counteracting the Winter Blues
In the fall and winter, millions of Americans begin to feel depressed, sluggish and socially withdrawn. They also experience heightened carb cravings, unwanted weight gain, an overwhelming need to sleep and negative thoughts and feelings. However, by spring or summer, these feelings and cravings dissipate – only to return the next autumn. For those with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), winter can be a difficult time.
SAD is a type of depression that related to changes in seasons, usually beginning in the fall and ending in the spring.
The transition from fall to winter means short days – and longer periods of darkness. A lack of sunlight means our brains produce less serotonin, that feel-good brain chemical that positively affects our mood. And, the longer nights can disrupt our bodies’ level of melatonin, a chemical that also affects our mood, as well as our sleep patterns.
But there’s more to it than sunlight. Did you know women ages 20 to 40 are twice as likely to be diagnosed with SAD? However, men aren’t immune, especially if depression runs in their family.
Don’t let the winter blues keep you down. Try these natural mood-elevating strategies:
- Exercising regularly should be your first line of defense. Sports and exercise classes like Yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong can help relieve stress and anxiety, which can worsen SAD symptoms. Being fit can help you feel better about yourself, too. As little as 20 minutes of heart-pumping aerobic activity like brisk walking will help reduce stress and improve your mood and for up to 12 hours. Make sure you exercise for at least 20 minutes every day.
- Make your environment sunnier and brighter. Open your blinds, trim tree branches that block sunlight or, if you’re able, add skylights to your home. You can also sit closed to bright windows while you’re home or at the office.
- Make time to socialize with friends and family, or get out and meet new people. Friends and family can offer support, whether it’s a shoulder to cry on or a good joke to give you a boost. Meeting new people can be adventurous, and it can lead to lasting friendships. Enhancing your support network will only help you feel more energized, more connected and more positive, which are great for combatting symptoms of depression.
- Be conscious of your eating habits. Refined carbohydrates, like starches and sugars, can wreak havoc on how you feel. These create dramatic swings in your blood sugar, which can make you feel fatigued, headachy and irritable. Instead, go for complex, fiber-rich carbohydrates such as whole grains, starchy beans, veggies and fruits – they do your body and brain good. Make sure your evening meal is rich in fiber-filled carbohydrates because late in the day is when symptoms of SAD are strongest.
You should also make sure you get enough vitamin D. Some studies show that an increase in vitamin D intake reduces SAD symptoms. You need 600 international units (IUs) if you are 51 – 70 years of age, and 800 IUs if you are 70 or older. Many Americans are deficient in this ultra-important vitamin. A diet rich in fatty fish such as salmon, eggs and fortified foods can be very beneficial in helping you reach an adequate intake of vitamin D.
Finally, you should consume enough omega 3 fatty acids. Research shows that those who consume more omega 3 fatty acids are less likely to suffer from depression. It is known that foods rich in omega 3s can help maintain healthy serotonin and dopamine levels. Try to eat more oily fish like wild salmon, mackerel and sardines. Plant sources such as flax, canola and walnuts are also good.
- Consider trying light therapy. Light therapy can be used on its own or in combination with one or more of the previously mentioned tips. Light therapy boxes emit artificial light to help compensate for a lack of sunlight. Simple sit in front of the box for 30 to 45 minutes each day.
If you find that maintaining these healthy habits still doesn’t keep SAD at bay, it might be time to reach out for help. Remember that depression isn’t a weakness. Millions of Americans suffer from depression, and Parkview Behavioral Health can create a personalized care plan to help you feel better.
Getting help is easy. Call the Parkview Behavioral Health HelpLine at (260) 373-7500 or (800) 284-8439, anytime 24 hours a day. Our dedicated assessment specialists are available to guide you to the appropriate level of care – or resources – for your situation.