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9
Nov

What To Do When You Get The Winter Blues

by Tiffany in Health & Healing

Depressed black woman sitting against wall on floor looking out window

I have been researching the winter blues quite a bit lately. The official name is Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. I have become convinced that I have become a victim of this disorder ever since I moved to Ohio from Arizona five years ago. There are many signs. When the days get shorter and darker many people get anxious, depressed, become socially withdrawn, have a hard time functioning at work, lose momentum and motivation, oversleep, can’t concentrate, gain weight, and develop a craving for carbs and sugary foods. These symptoms could be just mildly irritating in some and very drastic for others. I noticed a problem a couple years ago when it seemed like half the year I had absolutely no ambition or drive. I was prone to overeating, getting sick, and being generally moody and depressed. The past two winters in particular were BAD. My marriage almost imploded two years in a row and I knew come spring that I had to do something the following year. To address this I kicked off a new exercise regime that spring and that has done wonders for me (still going strong!) but with the disappearance of the light this fall and the return of my lack of motivation I knew I had to do something more. I suspect that I might be one of the 9-10% of the population that doesn’t do well with shorter days and less sunlight. I get the winter blues.

Now that I know what it is and have taken steps to remedy it, I am amazed that I didn’t catch onto this earlier. Instead of spending an entire day wasting time away on the computer bemoaning my lack of motivation I am much better served by taking a seat in front of a sunny window and reading for a few hours in the direct sunlight. Spending an afternoon in that seemingly lazy pursuit energizes me and gives me motivation to get busy the rest of the day and into the night. Taking a walk in the sun for 30 minutes each day… its like an energy infusion.

After reading the Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder (which is excellent BTW), I decided to outline a plan and hopefully beat this thing. I have had plenty of days that have started out bad but when I follow the advice in the book I can turn it around. I am pretty confident that if I stay on top of it, I can sail through it this year.

Here are some of the ways we can keep the winter blues at bay:

  • On sunny days spend at least 30 minutes outside.
  • If you can’t go outside, spend as much time as you can next to a sunny window.
  • If you can’t go outside or hang next to a window, use a light therapy box.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes each day.
  • Rather than letting the cold weather keep you indoors, bundle up for winter and get outside as often as you can, even if it is cloudy.
  • Vacation in the winter, ideally in a sunny place.
  • Increase your protein and reduce carbs, which are more likely to make you tired and lethargic.
  • Consider nutrient density in your diet and food choices. Avoid empty calories.
  • Stay away from added sugar.
  • Use St. John’s Wort as a natural and herbal antidepressant and give it several weeks to work.
  • Limit alcohol (yes, even that Egg Nog).
  • Reduce stress.
  • Do not let yourself oversleep.
  • Fill the air with negative ions (see below).
  • Accept that you have a handicap in the winter and be kind to yourself!

All of the above things can be done with minimal planning and work. It usually just requires you to be mindful of how your needs increase in the winter. You have to accept that you need a little more TLC in the winter and concentrate on nourishing your mind and body. A vacation might be prohibitive due to cost but things like St. John’s Wort and nourishing foods shouldn’t be to hard to get. I have (and love) a light therapy box and I have already been using a Permatech Ionizing Air Cleaner by Bionaire at home, both downstairs and upstairs. It cleans and purifies the air so we are less likely to get sick AND it releases negative ions. There have been some studies done at Columbia that showed how patients with SAD who sat in front of a negative ion generator for 30 minutes each morning had as much positive effect on depression as sitting in front of a light box, also a proven therapy. Another great modern invention is the Wake-Up Light. If you have to wake up before the sun rise (as many people do) then this light is fantastic. Light gradually increases for 30 minutes before your alarm time to gently prepare your body to wake up and feel more energetic at the start of your day. The only downside is that it may also wake up your partner/spouse who may not need to rise so early.

For the science behind SAD, light therapy, and negative ions read Winter Blues. It is by far the best source of info on all of this that I have read thus far, though it does tend to get quite technical and scientific in explaining all of it.

Do you suffer from the winter blues? How are you going to tackle it this year?

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

14 Comments

  • Angelgirly314

    Nice article. I definitely hate those shorter light days too, I get really depressed and anxious. Taking a nature walk in the fall is a great way to help with that. These are good tips for sure.
    Thanks 
    -Angie

  • http://naturalmomstalkradio.com/blog carrielee

    Yes, I realized a few years ago that I have this too. I hear it’s related to low serotonin. Since sunlight tells our bodies to produce serotonin to wake up, be happy and get things done and melatonin (which is serotonin, PM) cranks up in the afternoon in response to low light, basically in winter we’re going around with too little serotonin and too much melatonin (hence the sleepiness).

    My son even experiences “sundowning” at dusk. He is almost in tears some days. My mother has bipolar so serotonin issues definitely run in the family.

    My method is similar to yours. I have to go outside every day, even though I hate cold weather. I also have to exercise every day. Even staring out the window helps. I haven’t purchased a light box but I may if it gets too bad this winter.

  • Laura Hojnacke

    I didn’t realize I had SAD until I moved tor Oregon- where the sun hardly shines for 9 months!  I bought a light therapy lamp instead of a box.  It made a huge difference.  Eating well and exercise were great a well.  All of your points (except the negative ions- haven’t heard of that one but will look into it) are things I have tried and they worked.  Sadly, the holidays bring out tons of sugar and carbs right at the time you want to avoid them the most!   Luckily, we moved to Las Vegas so I don’t struggle as much now.  Thanks for the post.  I will be taking a look at the book.

  • Dnkraus

    Yes, last November I went to a physician, and got a prescription for a light therapy box.  The nurse stated that if these symptoms occur seasonally for 3 years in a row, it is considered SAD (provided you’re living in the same location, of course.)  For me it would have been the 3rd year.  I sit in front of the box for 30 min every morning.  Within 3 weeks of use, I felt better, not drastically, but enough to make a big difference in mood (lack of anxiety and irritability.) This summer, I felt better than I had in 30 years!  I live in Wisconsin, and was advised to begin the light each year in late August.  I totally agree with everything you said, except that I like carbs yet, but they need to be healthy carbs.  Carb intake is related to serotonin production, so I keep up my healthy, complex carbohydrates.  Also, sitting by a sunny window certainly does lift our moods, but the specific UV rays are not effective through the glass.  If you walk outside, take off your glasses….so the effective UV rays contact your eye receptors.  The rays from a light therapy box, however, will go through your eyeglasses, and will still be effective. 

  • Michelle

    I don’t know where you are in Ohio, but in NE ohio, we can go almost 2 weeks without the sun shining.  And you’re right, it is so depressing.  All I want to do is snuggle under my covers and hibernate for the Winter.  I am originall from FL, so it was a change for me to when I moved up 11 years ago.  I’m a little more “used to it” now.  I love your plan and congrats on working out since the Spring!!  I think that will go a long way in helping you defeat SAD this year!

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  • Heather

    Indiana can go weeks without the sun shining…I like to go to the laundromat and wash clothes in the winter…something about the bright lights and warm air from the dryers.,.

  • http://about.me/lynnhasselberger lynn hasselberger

    Great tips! Negative ions is something I hadn’t thought of. I just purchased a Himalyan salt lamp that supposed to help with that and want to collect them … one for each room. And they look cool.

  • http://www.green-talk.com/ Anna @GreenTalk

    I hate when we have to the shorter days. It is depressing. I have daylights by my computer during the day.

  • http://organic4greenlivings.com/ Marla Gates

    Good article and some very good suggestions to kick the winter blues. Thanks for sharing. Have a healthy day!