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 When the days get shorter and darker many people get anxious, depressed, become socially withdrawn, have a hard time functioning at work, lose momentum and motivation, oversleep, can’t concentrate, gain weight, and develop a craving for carbs and sugary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?