As the winter months creep in, the amount of daily light decreases. For many of us, we will go to work in the morning, and by the time we get out at five, the sun is already setting. This time of year, you might notice the lack of sunlight and seasonal change having a negative effect on everyday mood. If you notice a downward turn in mood as the number of sunlight decreases, you may have “winter blues” or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Know that you are not alone if you are experiencing SAD! Studies have shown that four to six percent of people may be suffering from winter depression and another 10 to 20 percent may have mild SAD (source).
If you think you have the seasonal affective disorder, it is essential to try your best to combat the negative side effects and even seek professional help. Depression can actually harm your immune system and leave you more susceptible to disease, so it’s important to treat it and take care of yourself to avoid any additional health issues (source, source).
Know the signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder
Be aware of your body and how you are feeling on a daily basis. Keep track of how you feel emotionally and physically. You might notice that you feel more sluggish, hopeless, or unmotivated. You could also experience difficulty sleeping, irritability, and have decreased energy during the winter months. Keeping a daily check-in diary is a smart idea to help keep you hyper-aware of how you feel.
Remember, everyone, experiences depression differently so be in tune with your body. If you don’t feel like yourself during the winter, don’t be afraid to talk to a professional or a friend, and take the steps to feel better.
To control your winter blues, here are some tips to help keep you happy and healthy!
Purchase a dawn simulator
Getting up in the morning can be difficult if it’s cold and grey outside. In some locations, the sun might not rise until around seven in the morning, which can confuse your circadian rhythm. To help you wake up, you can purchase a dawn simulator. A dawn simulator is a light placed on your bedside table that will turn on and gradually increase in light intensity to mimic the sun rising in the morning. The light of the simulator will penetrate your eyelids and into your retinas, which will help you to wake up in the morning. There are many different types of dawn simulators. The simulators can give off varying colors of light, as well. If you are interested in purchasing a simulator, you can check out this guide to picking the best one for you.
Take a tropical vacation
Even though the first day of winter hasn’t arrived yet, it may feel as though winter is already dragging on forever. If the winter grey and gloominess is overbearing, try planning a vacation to someplace warm and sunny! A vacation marked on your calendar will give you something positive for you to look forward to and will help cheer you up. Not to mention, the sunshine might be a good way to break you out of the blues and give you the sunshine you’ve been craving.
I understand that not everyone has the finances and ability to travel to someplace warm and tropical. A good alternative to taking a tropical vacation is to plan a weekend getaway to a nearby location on a sunny weekend. Check the weather and look ahead to find a sunny weekend. Do some research on the area to find fun activities and places you can walk around outside to enjoy some nice winter weather. Prepare ahead of time and bring warm clothes so you can participate in outdoor activities in the sun without getting chilly. A vacation of any type will help switch up your routine, and bring some excitement and fun into your life.
Get your recommended doses of vitamin D
During the winter when the sun’s rays aren’t as intense, you might not be getting enough vitamin D as you were in the summertime. Studies have shown that there is a link to vitamin D and mental health. Vitamin D levels in the central nervous system affect the production of both serotonin and dopamine (source). Also, in one study, the data showed that patients who were depressed or had other psychiatric disorders actually had lower levels of vitamin D than the control patients (source).
You can get vitamin D through supplements or vitamin D powders, or through certain foods. Vitamin D-rich foods include salmon, cod, beef liver, orange juice, and egg yolks (source). If you are looking for an awesome D3/K2 combination (K2 helps you to actually absorb the D3) I love using the liquid D3/K2 from Systemic Formulas. It tastes great and is very effective. Feel free to reach out if you would like to pick some up.
Try out a lightbox
Because of the decreased sunlight during winter, you may want to try out light therapy using a lightbox. A lightbox is a type of special, natural, full-spectrum light that gives out a light frequency similar to the one of the sun. You can set up your lightbox and sit in front of it to help you stimulate the cells in your eye which will in turn help regulate your circadian rhythm and mood (source). There are many types of lightboxes available online so you may want to consult your doctor or do your research and read reviews before you purchase one.
In addition to lightboxes, you can purchase full-spectrum light bulbs for your lamps. They come in many different types and it will feel like sunshine indoors when you turn them on.
Avoid binging on comfort foods
When it is snowing and blustery outside, it’s easy to crave warm, carb-dense foods, like macaroni and cheese, plates of pasta, and sugary desserts. However, these foods might be contributing to your SAD. A study has shown that eating refined carbs might contribute to negative emotions and depression (source). Try avoiding foods with refined carbs to reduce SAD symptoms. Having a healthy diet will help you in all aspects of your life. Cutting out foods that are initially comforting isn’t easy, but in the long run, you will feel better. It’s also good practice not using food as an emotional crutch—improving your relationship with food is a big step to mental wellness!
The cold may deter you from spending time outdoors, but if you are experiencing SAD, getting outside and into the sunlight may benefit you. Don’t let the cold stop you from enjoying nature and getting some fresh air! Preparing for a cold walk outside can actually turn into a fun activity. You can bundle up in your favorite cozy sweaters, hats, mittens, and scarves. Filling up a thermos of soup or tea to sip will keep you warm from the inside out. Lookup a new area to take a walk or hike, and enjoy the outdoors and sunshine.
Make winter fun with seasonal hobbies
Don’t get cabin fever cooped up inside all winter! Take part of seasonal activities and holidays. During the holiday months, combat your winter blues by taking part of fun and festive activities. If you have a creative side, you can make your own holiday decorations and decorate your house. Or if you have children, you can bake Christmas cookies with them, or take them ice skating!
Also, many towns have Christmas tree lightings, caroling, drive-through Christmas lights and holiday parties that you can participate in. The social aspect of these events may cheer you up and help counter the any negative emotions. Even if you don’t want to, if you make the effort to get out of the house, you’ll probably wind up enjoying yourself.
During the holidays, there are also many volunteer opportunities, like Santa’s helpers, present wrapping, Salvation Army volunteering and more. Volunteering might boost your morale, give you a sense of purpose and make you feel good inside about helping others.
Every year, Scott and I volunteer with The Rice Plus Project to purchase and organize about 700 gifts for underprivileged children.Then they are wrapped at a huge wrapping party and distributed. It’s a big job but very rewarding a fun too! Look around your community and see if there’s a non-profit that you could work with too!
I know that seasonal affective disorder, negative emotions and depression in general is a difficult aspect of life. But remember things will get better if you take the initiative to fight it. If you have the mindset that you won’t let it beat you or bring you down, you can overcome the winter blues. You are never alone in your endeavors and I have faith in your recovery! ?