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  • 1/27/2014

Beating the Winter Blues

beating the winter blues

Every year as fall begins to turn to winter, I notice the distinctive change in the amount of daylight we experience. Working ten hour days in my job, I leave in the dark and come home in the dark. And it seems to impact my moods-I am more tired, less patient, and probably not as nice as I should be at home or at work.

I suspect many of us feel that way with the change of the seasons. But for some, this time of year leads to more serious symptoms. Mental health professionals even have a term for this syndrome-Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. It is also commonly known as the Winter Blues.

The professionals tell us that when the symptoms get serious enough to affect your life, you may be afflicted with SAD. People with SAD tend to experience some of the following symptoms:

· Desire to sleep more

· Overeating

· Withdrawing from social activities

· Feeling anxious

· Being unusually irritable

· Feeling a lack of energy

· Headaches

· Craving of sweets

· Loss of desire for physical activity

· Weight gain

If you think this sounds like depression, you are right. SAD is a form of depression, but it is caused by the reduction of daylight during the winter months. And even if you are inside in artificial light most of the day, you can still suffer from a lack of daylight. Mental health professionals diagnose a person as having SAD if they have these symptoms for two consecutive winters, and do not have the symptoms in the spring and summer.

SAD tends to be more common among women and young people, so you should be watching for symptoms in your partners and daughters. Doctors think there may be a connection between SAD and lower serotonin levels, which in more serious cases can result in clinical depression.

Get rid of the winter blues

Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to both prevent the blues from coming on and get yourself back to normal if they’re already here.

1. Exercise

As if we needed another reason to get fit! Exercise isn’t only for maintaining your weight and staying healthy. It’s great for relieving the stresses of life. Plus, the effects of a good workout can last for several hours after you hit the showers. You’ll have more energy throughout the day, and your metabolism with stay elevated too. Exercise also helps your mind by releasing those "feel good chemicals" that improve your mood.

2. Eat a Healthy Diet

What and when you eat has a great affect on your mood and energy. Avoid refined and processed foods (like white breads, rice, and sugar). These foods are not only devoid of the nutrients your body craves, but they zap your energy levels and can affect your mood””causing depression, lack of concentration, and mood swings. Try to incorporate more complex carbohydrates (whole wheat breads, brown rice, veggies, fruit) and get your daily 8 cups of water. These healthy foods provide your body (and mind) with nutrients, and stabilize your blood sugar and your energy levels.

3. Get Some Sun

Most people know that sunlight provides us with Vitamin D. But did you know that it also improves your mood? Winter days are shorter and darker than other months, and because of the cold weather, a lot of people spend less and less time outdoors. Lack of sunlight can cause many people to become depressed””without knowing why! Similar to exercise, sunlight exposure releases neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood. Try to spend a little more time outdoors.  Keep your shades up during the day to let more light in. Sit near windows in restaurants and during class. Try changing the light bulbs in your house to "full spectrum" bulbs. These mimic natural light and actually have the same affects on your mind as the real thing.

4. Take up a new hobby

Keeping your mind active with a new interest seems to ward off symptoms of SAD, says Pavlovich. "It could be anything, such as knitting, joining a gym, keeping a journal or writing a blog. The important thing is that you have something to look forward to and concentrate on," she adds.

5. Relax!

You’re busy! Work, class, family, friends, appointments, meetings””even if you enjoy being busy, everyone needs some time off. Don’t be afraid to say "No" to extra opportunities. Try to spend a few minutes each day doing nothing! Read a book or magazine, sleep in on the weekend, go to bed early, try some meditations, or take a yoga class. Relaxation, especially in the form of yoga, can alleviate stress and leave you with a calm energy. Mental exercises like meditation and positive thinking can help keep depression at bay.

6. Embrace the Season

Instead of always avoiding the cold and the snow””look for the best that it has to offer! Take up a winter sport like ice skating, snowboarding, hockey, or even sledding! Enjoy these opportunities while they last””after all, they’re only here a few months per year. Staying active will boost your energy. Seeing winter in a positive light, with all the fun activities that it has to offer, will keep your spirits high.

7. See your friends and family

It’s been shown that socialising is good for your mental health and helps ward off the winter blues. Make an effort to keep in touch with people you care about and accept any invitations you get to social events, even if you only go for a little while. It will really help to lift your spirits.

8. Catch some Zzzz’s

People naturally want to sleep a little bit more during the winter. But with all we have going on, sometimes sleep is the first thing to go. With a little time management, and some self-discipline, you can meet your shut-eye needs. Aim for 7-8 hours each night, and try to keep your bedtime and waking time consistent. That way, your sleeping patterns can normalize and you’ll have more energy. Try not to oversleep””those 12-hour snoozes on the weekend can actually make you MORE tired. Don’t forget naps! A short (10-30 minute) afternoon nap may be all you need to re-energize midday.





Other links:

9 Things You Can Do to Be Happy in the Next 30 Minutes

Your Mind: More Powerful Than Your Body

Change Can Be a Good Thing

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