Banishing the Winter Blues: How to Navigate Seasonal Mood Change
We all know it's coming. Not long from now, we'll be waking up when it's still dark, going to work when it's still dark, and getting out of work when it's already dark. This constant darkness is a recipe for the feelings of sadness, sluggishness, and hopelessness that are symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Known also by its very fitting acryonym, SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder typically strikes in late fall and early winter, when the days get shorter and our levels of serotonin and melatonin, neurotransmitters that regulate mood, start to drop. Short of packing up and moving south, there's nothing we can do to stop this natural, seasonal process. But there is plenty we can do to make sure we keep our spirits up and prevent SAD from affecting our mood and our health. Start taking these steps now before symptoms start, and make it through till spring with a smile!
Let in the light. The first step in preventing SAD is to make sure your home is getting as much light as possible. Keep all blinds and curtains open from dawn till dusk—even indirect light can make a space feel more cheerful. And when working in the office, eating your meals, or relaxing at home, sit as close to south-facing windows as possible so you can get direct sunlight even when inside.
Get out. As our days become shorter and shorter, it's essential to grab sunlight whenever we can. Take a quick walk in the morning before work or during your lunch break. If you have a few minutes of downtime during the day, step outside and sun yourself. Even brief sun exposure can be helpful./p>
Exercise. To counteract the season's sluggishness, make an exercise plan and stick to it. If it's too cold to work out outside, use an indoor exercise machine, take classes, or join a gym. Some people find that the bright lights of a gym boost their energy and mood in the winter months.
Make plans. Don't let winter keep you in. Making fun plans with friends, family, or your partner can help keep the blues at bay. If you keep doing the activities you most love doing—seeing plays, trying new restaurants, volunteering—winter won't seem quite so dark.
Take a sunny holiday. If you have the extra funds and the time off, plan a getaway to a sunny destination. It doesn't necessarily have to be in the tropics—plenty of places right here in the USA get year-round sun, from Phoenix (211 clear days each year) to Las Vegas (210) to Sacramento (188).
Take vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D, which is essential to good health in many ways, activates genes that release the mood-regulating neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. This vitamin is created by the skin when it's exposed to sunlight—so when we don't get enough sun, we don't get enough vitamin D, and consequently our mood tends to drop. Vitamin D isn't found naturally in many foods, so supplementation is essential during the shorter days of fall and winter, especially for those living in northern climates who are exposed only to weak sunlight.
Try light therapy. Full-spectrum light bulbs and light boxes mimic natural sunlight, and some studies suggest that using them can help reverse symptoms of SAD. Try replacing the light bulbs in the rooms you sit in most with full-spectrum bulbs, or sit in front of a light box for 30 minutes each morning, perhaps during breakfast or at your desk.
Embrace the season. There's no use staring sadly at pictures of your Fourth of July beach vacation. Though the coming of winter means we can no longer go jump in the lake, enjoy warm evening walks, or break out our favorite pair of shorts, the season brings its own unique pleasures, and we should cherish them while we can. So enjoy playing in the snow, getting quality family time at the holidays, and drinking hot tea by a warm fire. Like every season, this one won't last long!