HEALTHY LIVING — Mid-winter blues, coping and getting your happy back
Feeling a little low on energy, a little less perky and a little more moody? Do the dark, dreary, days of winter leave you feeling blue?
You just might have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the dreary, cold days of the winter months. Let’s learn more and take steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year.
Symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD, sometimes called winter depression, may include:
- tiredness or low energy,
- problems getting along with other people,
- hypersensitivity to rejection,
- heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs,
- appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates, and
- weight gain
It’s normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed or if you feel hopeless, think about suicide, or turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation.
The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
Now that we know what is going on, let’s explore some remedies. First and foremost, follow your doctor’s orders. Light therapy is one of the first line treatments for fall-onset SAD. It generally starts working in a few days to two weeks and causes few side effects. Research on light therapy is limited, but it appears to be effective for most people in relieving SAD symptoms. These lights are easy to buy and just set on a table shining on you while you read or watch TV for a couple of hours a day. I have a dear friend who has used her “Happy Light” for years, it really does help.
Here are some very simple things you can do on your own that may give you relief:
- Make your environment sunnier and brighter. Open blinds, trim tree branches that block sunlight to your home. Sit closer to bright windows while at home or in the office.
- Get outside. Take a long walk, eat lunch at a nearby park, or simply sit on a bench and soak up the sun. Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help — especially if you spend some time outside within two hours of getting up in the morning.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise and other types of physical activity help relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase SAD symptoms. Yoga is excellent for clearing the mind and relaxation. Being more fit can make you feel better about yourself, too, which can lift your mood.
- Take heart, spring, sunshine, and warmer days are coming.
Let’s stay active and live healthy, my friends.
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