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Don't Let The Winter Blues Get You Down

The colder weather mixed with shorter days can cause the winter blues to set in. You may feel increased sadness, experience fatigue, notice a disruption in you sleep schedule, and have problems concentrating.


You may have heard of a term called Seasonal Affective Disorder aka SAD. Isn't that another name for the winter blues? Nope! While they are similar, symptoms for SAD is much more severe than winter blues. SAD is characterized by severe sadness during the fall and winter, depression that limits normal functioning and motivation, and frequent issues with sleep or eating. The symptom of winter blues include sadness during the fall and winter months, some problems with sleeping, and a lack of motivation. It is similar to the difference between sadness and depression. However, when sadness interferes with your ability to function in your daily life, it could be something more serious. If the symptoms get this severe, it’s crucial to seek professional mental health services immediately.


If you are dealing with the winter blues, there are some actions you can take to get through these dreary months.


Invest in a light therapy lamp. They are fairly inexpensive, can be purchased online, and are easy to use. The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) recommends sitting in front of a light box first thing in the morning for 20 to 60 minutes. Light boxes usually provide 10,000 lux (lux is a light intensity measurement). This should be done from early fall until spring. This is actually the light therapy lamp that I use.


Seek out the sun. As hard as it is when it is cold and windy out you should still make it a priority to get outside. A lack of sunlight worsens SAD and winter blues so it is necessary that you try to soak up the sun when you can. Being in the sunlight helps balance serotonin activity, increases melatonin production, balances your circadian rhythm, and increases vitamin D levels, which can lead to an improved emotional state (Melrose 2015). A simple (and warm) way to add more sunlight into your day include moving your chair, desk, or kitchen table close to a window with direct sunlight for a couple hours a day.


Maintain your sleep routine. We have heard again and again that sleep impacts our mood, but what does a good night sleep entail? Going to bed and waking up at the same time everyday, keeping electronics out of the bedroom, making sure your room is cool and dark, creating a simple bedtime routine to follow every night, and exposing yourself to light as soon as you wake up.


Keep your body moving. Physical activity has been shown to boost mood, decrease the symptoms of depression, and reduce stress. Start slowly and build up to 30 to 60 minutes a day, five days a week, of aerobic exercise, strength training, yoga, or other fitness-related activities. Getting outside daily, even for a few minutes a day, can make a huge impact on your mood and help target the specific symptoms of SAD related to a lack of daylight.


Stay in touch with your support system. The winter blues can be exasperated by isolation and loneliness, which is why it is important to stay in contact with your friends and family. It could be a simple Facetime call, a walk outdoors, or meeting each other at Starbucks for a quick cup of coffee.


The winter blues can take a toll on your physical and mental health. And while you can’t change the season, you can make choices to help minimize the effects of feeling down.


Sources:

1. National Institute of Mental Health. Seasonal affective disorder.

2. Melrose S. Seasonal affective disorder: an overview of assessment and treatment approaches. Depress Res Treat. 2015;2015:1-6. doi:10.1155/2015/178564

3. American Psychological Association. The exercise effect. December 2011.

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