It’s winter, it’s cold, and many are getting cabin fever or just getting down because the days are shorter and getting outside is harder and harder to do. For many, it’s dark when you drive to work and dark when you get home. While a relatively small percentage of Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a large percentage have some seasonal depression symptoms. The Cleveland Clinic estimates that up to 20% of Americans feel this way.1
Some root causes of seasonal depression include the psychological and physiological responses to having less light, Vitamin D deficiency, and a lowered metabolism due to the body’s natural wish to conserve in winter and lower exercise levels.
Several symptoms can indicate some seasonal depression, including a change in appetite and sleep patterns, social avoidance, irritability, decreased energy levels, and so forth. A change in appetite is normal, as the body naturally wants to begin “fattening up” for winter, but changing sleep patters to go along with it may mean your melatonin levels are rising due to the pineal gland being triggered because of lower light levels. This would also mean lower energy levels. The depression this can bring will also cause irritability and avoidance of social situations.
To counter these, the following things can boost your well being in the winter:
Get outside as often as possible. Even if it’s just for a few minutes to play in the snow or walk around the block. Outside is outside, especially in the daylight, and simple, short activities can do wonders. Spend your lunch break outside or make it a point to park as far from the door as possible so you have to walk to and from your car at work.
Get Vitamin D however you can. Most who live in the cold north will need to supplement, but just braving the cold for a few minutes with bare arms or face to the sun will do it for many. Nearly everyone is deficient in D during the winter months, no matter where you live.2 400 IU (international units) per day is considered the minimum.
Exercise – maybe even more than usual. In the winter months, your body will likely push you towards eating heavier foods like nuts and meats. You can either fight the urge or you can cave in a little and make up for it with more exercise. No matter what, keep exercising in the winter, even if it’s on a treadmill or exercycle at the window.3
Stop wearing those shades and see the light. The future might be bright, but you probably don’t have to wear shades to keep from blinding. Safety first, of course, so if you need to wear sunglasses to keep the glare off while driving, then do so. But when you’re walking or spending time outdoors in the winter, go without the shades. This will tell your body that there is sunlight and will help stave off the psychological effects of the winter blues.
Look out the window once in a while. If you have a window near your desk, pull up the shades so you can have the light coming in or look outside once in a while. Or walk by the windows on the way to the bathroom, water cooler, the boss’ office, or whatever. See what’s happening outside, even if it’s just a dreary winter’s day. Seeing the outside, namely the natural light, will greatly improve your mood.
These five things will go a long way towards improving your winter doldrums. Be happy, be healthy!
1 – What is Seasonal Depression?, The Cleveland Clinic
2 – Vitamin D on NutrientReference.com (search results)
3 – Outdoor Winter Day Activities: fifty things to do on cold days by Elece Hollis, Suite101.com