IT SEEMS TO HIT the same time each year, once the holidays are over: those winter blues. No matter how you try, it’s hard to shake—the lethargy, the sense that everything is bigger than it actually is, a feeling of defeat and for some, an overwhelming depression. For those who suffer seriously, a visit to the doctor is needed. However, if you have bits and spurts and feel you can manage the blues, here are FIVE practical ways to ward off the winter doldrums.
Beating the winter doldrums–especially once they settle in after the letdown after the holidays—can be overwhelming. Make no mistake: you’re not necessarily on an emotional rollercoaster. More likely, your body is reacting to this time of the year. In winter, the days are shorter so we are exposed to less sunlight; sunlight is a natural spirit-lifter-upper and a source of Vitamin C. The nights are longer and darkness has an enormous impact on our bodies. The combination—shorter days and longer nights—results in a mental health condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD.) And you may very well be one of the 20 million Americans affected by SAD. Symptoms include agitation, change in appetite or weight (up or down), difficulty concentrating, loss of interest, and in extreme cases, thoughts of death or suicide. This change in sunlight patterns not only disrupts our circadian rhythm (the “internal clock” that regulates our sleep-awake cycle and affects our behavior, emotions, mental acuity, and physical well-being) but reduces our serotonin levels—the “feel good” chemical that maintains our feelings of well-being.
Seasonal Affective Disorder does not affect everyone, but it does have a tendency to target certain people. Some may have a family history of SAD. Those who are victims of bipolar disorder or major depression may experience aggravated or worsening tendencies. The further away you live from the equator also is a factor. And if you work in a windowless office or cubicle, SAD may be compounded by “sick building syndrome”—yes, that’s right. A poorly ventilated, windowless office is prime breeding ground for bacteria, microbes, and other indoor pollutants which feed off of darkness and moisture and contaminate air ducts, ceiling tiles, and other areas and wreaks havoc with your immune system.
“When the immune system is activated,” says biomedical engineering professor Michael Smolensy, “its infection-fighting cells release a variety of chemicals which induce inflammation, and it’s highly circadian rhythmic.”
Add to this four hours a day of television (the national average) and as much as 12 hours a day—or more—in front of computer, cellphone, tablets, etc. There’s a dire need for digital detox in the electronic age and it’s utterly ignored by a society that relies on electronics. If this describes you then whether you know it or not, you suffer from sensory overload…and the negative impact of sensory overload exacerbates the winter doldrums. How can you tell? You may be less creative, your concentration is disrupted, your visuomotor coordination is not as keen as usual nor are your reaction times as fast. You can’t relax, you’re stressed out and when you are, you may suffer from headaches, hypertension, insomnia, and rheumatoid arthritis. You got it! SAD.
So…what to do?
- Focus on the good. Engage in an activity that gives you pleasure, whether it’s cooking, reading, visiting with a friend, even working on a crossword puzzle. Something that brightens your spirits.
- Physical activity is paramount. Take at least 20 minutes a day to exercise—walking, biking, going to the gym, playing sports. Every hour, get up from your desk and stretch for 10 minutes. Talk a “walk break.” Not only is this important for your physical well-being, but your mental well-being as well, After all, your mind needs a break, too, from being focused for long , uninterrupted, intense periods of time.
- Get outside for at least 15minutes every day just to soak up some sunshine and fresh air. Even if it’s cloudy, the sun’s still out. This is the natural way you’ll increase your serotonin levels and when you do, you’ll boost your mood and calm down.
- Practice yoga and/or meditate.
- Aromatherapy and natural oils in a diffuser have been known for centuries as a way to calm the spirit and ease the soul.
- Eat well and include fiber-rich foods every day: collard greens, sweet potatoes, chickpeas, and broccoli are perfect in winter and delicious when added to a stew or salad. And if you’re dieting, consider what Julie Joyner, program coordinator for Healthy Duke at Duke University says: “Health is more than an ideal goal weight or following through a diet. “It’s about the total picture of how you feel physically, spiritually and emotionally.”
- Light therapy! Replace your lightbulbs with SAD lights. They are proven to reduce Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms and banish the winter blues. The top four SAD lights for 2021 according to Consumer Reports are (in order) Moodozi, Northern Light, Carex, and Miroco. You can find them online.
- And last but not least, at night, make a cup of hot chocolate (chocolate is full of healthful antioxidants), turn off the TV, put on some soft music, and relax in front of the fire.
Do these things and say goodbye to the winter blues!