It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Autumn is fading into winter and it’s the season for gratitude and joy as we share Thanksgiving and Christmas with loved ones. It truly is a wonderful time. Pretty soon it will be a new year; time to polish off those New Year’s resolutions and plan for your “best year yet.” I love the new year. I love setting new goals and dreaming of the possibilities. The new year starts off with a bang and lots of excitement and momentum.
And then somewhere along the way the Winter Blues come knocking. Everything turns gray, including my mood and my outlook on life.
Are you one of the many Americans who, somewhere around the end of January, begins to get sick of winter? Do you begin wondering where your joy and enthusiasm have gone? Feel like locking yourself in a dark room until summer?
Let’s talk about SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder
It is a form of depression that occurs at the same time every year, typically early fall and through the winter. It causes feelings of irritability, tiredness, sickness, sadness, and other symptoms often associated with depression. It’s not uncommon among Americans, especially those living in Northern states. It can be debilitating, but it can also be overcome.
Why do people get SAD?
Put in simple terms, it’s a chemical imbalance caused by decreased exposure to light, particularly sunlight.
A drop in the number of hours of sunlight per day can upset your body’s circadian rhythm (body clock), which is how your body knows when to sleep and when to be awake. It can make you feel tired when you shouldn’t be, as well as keep you from sleeping when you need to.
Exposure to sunlight causes increased levels of serotonin, which is a mood enhancing neurotransmitter. Darkness prompts your body to make melatonin, a sleep enhancing and regulating hormone. So, with less light in the winter, your body is receiving less “feel good” hormones and more “just go to sleep” hormones. So you’re cranky, foggy-headed, hungry (not really, but you think you are), and just want to be alone.
If you’ve been there, you know exactly what it feels like. And you don’t want to go back this year.
You don’t have to accept the Winter Blues
The good news is, there are many actions you can take to keep yourself happy and healthy all through the winter… the long, cold winter.
The first thing you need to know about SAD is that if you are susceptible to it, and want to avoid it this year, you have to begin preparing yourself now.
Don’t wait until the clouds roll in to start searching for answers and remedies. Start implementing these habits now because it’s easier to avoid the blues than to fight it once you’re there.
First we’ll talk about what not to do.
When you’re depressed or experiencing the Winter Blues, it’s easy to slip into habits that feel–at the moment–like they’re helping. Unfortunately these habits can put you into a vicious cycle of going from bad to worse. Keep yourself out of this cycle by preparing ahead of time and knowing what behaviors you will avoid, even if they seem like they will bring comfort or relief.
(Do not) Hibernate!
Do not lock yourself away in a dark room. Do not turn down social invitations that you would typically accept. In other words, do not isolate yourself, waiting for the storm to pass. This may seem like the comfortable thing to do at the moment but it will only exacerbate the problem.
Tell your spouse or a trusted friend what you’re dealing with and ask them to keep you accountable. Have them check up on you and make sure you’re getting out of the house, even if they have to come and put you in their car and take you out for coffee!
(Do not) Eat sugar and carbs (“comfort foods” which will bring you anything but comfort.)
Comfort foods comfort for the moment but they actually intensify mood issues. Unstable blood sugar, caused by consuming sugar and refined carbs (white bread, white rice, anything processed) is a prominent cause for depression and other mental disorders. Your job right now is to find foods that you enjoy that are not high in simple carbs.
(Do not) Drink alcohol.
If you do find comfort in alcohol, it’s temporary, and it’s actually making your depression worse. Alcohol is a depressant.
Instead of alcohol, try some herbal teas to chase away the cold and sooth your emotions.
Instead of these destructive reactions to the blues, let’s look at the positive things you can do to arm yourself against seasonal depression.
Get morning light
Try to get at least 20 minutes of natural, bright light within one hour of waking. This will keep your body clock regulated and help keep you from insomnia and feeling tired during the day. You can use a light box if you can’t get actual sunlight, which is typically the issue with SAD. Incidentally, getting morning light all through the year will help fight insomnia.
Get as much light as you can. Get out during the day. Sit near windows in restaurants, classes, etc. Go for walks outside. Fight the urge to be inside, in a dark room. You’ll be glad you did.
I can’t stress enough the importance of exercise in your battle against depression. It doesn’t have to be intense, or even every day. But you must exercise. Take a brisk walk for 20 minutes every other day, or something similar. Find something you enjoy doing so you’re more likely to do it.
Feed your body what it needs
We’ve talked about what not to eat. What you do eat can prove to be amazingly effective.
- Eat lots of leafy greens. My favorite way is in a “green smoothie“. You really can’t taste the greens, just the fruit you add to it.
- Eat your fruits and vegetables! Yes, your brain needs them in order to function properly.
- Increase your vitamin D.
- Take a high quality fish oil supplement. Studies show that fish oil is highly effective in fighting depression. (You can get supplements that don’t have a fishy taste.)
- Eat foods high in B vitamins.
- Eat smart carbs, like; whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables. Carbs can have a comforting effect, but go for the complex, high quality ones, leave the simple ones in the store.
- Eat good quality proteins.
- Drink plenty of filtered water.
Use essential oils
An essential oil is simply an oil which has been extracted from a plant. The term “essential” as it is used here is to imply that it is the essence of the plant. (It’s not synonymous with the word required.)
Essential oils have been shown to have many healing properties for all kinds of health related issues, including mood. Some oils that can help with mood include; lemon, lavender, rosemary, jasmine, and geranium, to name just a few.
Be careful when beginning to use essential oils. They are extremely potent and can cause ill effects if used improperly. Get familiar with the effects of each and choose the ones that apply to your situation. Some oils that help with mood are calming oils, while some are invigorating. If you’re feeling agitated, stressed, and irritated, you would opt for a calming oil, whereas if you are dealing with sleeping too much you would choose something that will lift your spirits and energy level.
Be sure to only use a pure essential oil. Make sure it has no additives, fragrances, etc.
Keep a regular bed time and get up at the same time every day.
Try to get between 7and 8 hours of quality sleep per night. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Don’t sleep in on your days off. Yes, it’s tempting, but just like those other “don’ts”, this one will only make you feel worse. It upsets your body clock, which is what we’re trying so hard to regulate.
Be intentional with your naps
There is something to be said for a quick, quality nap. (see this article http://michaelhyatt.com/why-you-should-take-a-nap-every-day.html)
However, if you’re fighting Winter Blues, you may feel the urge to nap when it’s really not what you need. If you’re following the advice to keep a regular bed time and get 7-8 hours of rest, then you’re getting the rest you need.
When you hit a sleepy point in your day, try activity before you try rest. Also, keep a tight reign on those sugars and carbs. Eat foods that give you a natural and longer lasting source of energy that won’t end in a sudden crash.
Share your feelings with someone you trust.
It doesn’t mean you need to go around telling everyone you see that you’re depressed. But do tell someone who cares about you.
If your condition is disrupting your normal routine, making it difficult for you to work, etc., seek medical help and/or counseling. A professional can help you learn coping techniques that will help. (Really, they can.)
Take the time to dress warmly.
This may sound a little silly, but but it’s important and can actually make a difference in your mood. When you constantly jump into a cold car with not enough clothes on, run errands in town while shivering the whole time, and don’t run the heat in your house, you’re not doing yourself any favors. You’re sending constant messages of discomfort to your brain. No wonder your brain hates winter! No wonder you want to curl up in a ball with a quilt and a huge helping of comfort food. Wear something that helps you move freely through your day without feeling cold. For women, you’d be surprised what a lovely scarf around your neck will do. And I know you love your flip flops, but go ahead and trade them in for a beautiful pair of boots, (under which you will wear warm, cotton socks!) You’ll be totally fashionable and comfortable. When you get home at the end of the day you’ll be energized instead of warn out. Isn’t it amazing what clothes can do?
Change your perspective on winter.
Find something you can enjoy about winter. Take up a winter hobby. Get outside more often with the kids. (I know, they’re finally old enough to play outside by themselves while you watch from the window, sipping your wonderfully hot cup of coffee. But trust me, this little retreat and your choice to stay in is not serving you well. Get out, enjoy the sunshine… and the cold.)
Focus on your goals
Be proactive. Stay focused on those New Years resolutions. When you’ve got a big goal to work toward, it’s not as easy to slip into “I give up” mode.
Plan something exciting.
Map out your spring garden and start ordering seeds. Plan a family vacation. Start writing a book (but do not use this as an excuse to become a recluse!) Find something that lifts your spirits and brings back your enthusiasm.
Talk to your doctor.
There is no shame in needing medicine to help your brain regulate your emotions. If depression has interrupted your daily life, you may need the help that only a doctor can provide. Don’t hesitate to make an appointment and find out what your options are.
You don’t have to be blue.
We’ve gone over many strategies that you can use to help keep you feeling good even through the long, gray winter. But one last warning and little piece of advice; don’t be overwhelmed by this list. Just look back through it and choose a few things that you feel like you can do, and that will have the most impact on you personally. The key is to be proactive and face the blues with a plan and a winning spirit.
A free printable for you
**Please note: I am not a doctor. The topics discussed here are my experiences only. If you are depressed, please see your doctor.
photo credit, in order of appearance:
1. @ Subbotina Anna-Dollar Photo Club
2.@ sveta- Dollar Photo Club
3.@ Anna Khomulo Dollar Photo Club
4. @ BlueOrange Studio Dollar Photo Club