Do you sometimes feel blue when winter comes and don’t know why you feel that way? That gloomy feeling during the winter months is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and according to Mental Health America, it affects about half a million people every year, with a peak of onset during December, January, and February. Although some consider it moodiness, SAD is a real medical condition that affects people during the cold season.
Lack of sunlight, a drop in temperature and low serotonin (a brain chemical that affects our mood, appetite and sleep) are the main causes of SAD. The longer nights also disrupt our body’s circadian rhythm (the way our bodies use sunlight to “wake up”), resulting in a sudden change that our body clocks cannot keep up with.
It’s easy to beat ourselves up for feeling down during winter, but SAD is a condition that we can deal with. Here are some ideas for keeping the winter blues away:
Even if I want nothing more than to lie in bed, I try to get up and clean. Tidying up reduces the clutter in our home, gets our muscles moving and allows our energy to flow freely. This counteracts the symptoms of SAD and lifts the mood, especially once we see the fruits of our labor. Having order at home helps promote a relaxing and stress-free environment during the winter season.
Let the Sunlight In
Sunlight helps our bodies produce serotonin, the hormone that affects our mood, appetite and sleep. Open up windows to let the sunlight inside the house and get enough serotonin to stay upbeat. Taking walks out whenever the sun is shining also helps the body get enough sunlight to produce serotonin.
Use a Sun Lamp
My husband is a therapist at a college in Michigan (where sun is hard to come by during the winter months), and to counteract SAD, the health center has a sun lamp that students and faculty can use during the dark months. A sun lamp simulates sunlight using polarized light and helps your body make up for its low sun exposure. This portable lamp is perfect for getting our daily light exposure while indoors.
Surround Yourself with Bright Colors
Bright colors instantly upgrade a room and make your space look less dismal. One wall painted in a vivid color counters the neutral hues outside the house. Brightly colored accessories like lamps, pillow cases and vases also help to create a bright and cheerful atmosphere to combat the winter gloom.
Have a Proper Diet
Food is a huge factor in our moods, and having a proper diet affects SAD every day. A vegetable-filled menu, limited sugar and caffeine intake, and high-protein meals all help supplement the serotonin and dopamine (the neurotransmitter for the feel-good center in the brain) levels in our brains. Here is a helpful article on how to have a proper diet to fight SAD.
If it’s not too cold or the weather isn’t too crazy, bundle up and walk outdoors. Exercise gets the blood flowing and releases endorphins which lifts our mood. If it’s too cold out or snowing, there are plenty of home exercises available online.
Connect with Others
It’s easy to want to simply hole up during the winter months, but resist the urge to isolate. Invite friends over for movies, games or cozy nights knitting by the fire. I find that spending an afternoon sledding with my kids, followed by hot chocolate and soup, is a great way to improve my mood.
Ultimately, coping with SAD can be easy and long lasting. With a few lifestyle tweaks, plenty of sunlight and quality time with family and friends, winter can be a bright and stress-free season.
Author: Jennifer Lutz
Apprentice Editor: Alexandra McGinness / Editor: Travis May
Image: Flickr/Joe Penna