We have survived the hustle and bustle of the holiday season only to realize that it’s frigid outside, the sun hardly ever shines, and we have three whole months to survive. How in the world do we beat the winter doldrums?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), aka “the winter blues,” affects over half a million people in the U.S. Symptoms can be mild and include fatigue, weight gain, carbohydrate craving, and a lack of motivation; but can also encompass more severe depression, mood swings, irritability, anxiety, and an increased need for sleep.
So, what can we do to help us feel better as the winter months move along at a snail’s pace? Read on for some ideas and self-help.
Seek out the sun!
The shortest days of the year fall during the winter months and result in less sun exposure, less vitamin D absorption, and less neurotransmitter (feel-good hormone) release. Simple tricks to remedy these issues can include: opening home and office blinds to allow sunlight in; getting 5-15 minutes of sun on exposed skin areas (without sunscreen), and using an artificial light source (called phototherapy) approved for this purpose to mimic natural light (available products).
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week and 2 sessions of strength training working major muscles of legs arms, chest, stomach, and back. That amounts to 20 minutes/day and can include vigorous walking (which costs nothing) or time spent on the elliptical, treadmill, bike, or rower at your local gym.Exercise increases the secretion of endorphins which help us feel good.Even if you are feeling tired and sluggish, motivate yourself to walk or get on the elliptical for 5 minutes. Once you start, you should begin to feel energized and wish to continue exercising past the five minute mark. Please, go lace up your shoes and Just Do It!
Eat a healthy diet
Start your new year by cutting back on sugary foods and limiting all those snack foods that are so temptingly packaged.Research supporting the dangers of overconsumption of sugar is mounting. Binging on sugar (an overly prevalent ingredient in modern day processed foods) promotes belly fat, elevates triglycerides (bad fats) in the blood, decreases mental alertness, and overtaxes the pancreas which leads to diabetes.Simply incorporating fresh ingredients into our meals and ensuring that our food looks like what it started as- corn should not look like a chip- can help improve your diet. Give yourself one month of incorporating fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy, legumes, whole grains, and fresh meats/fish into your diet. I guarantee you will feel more alert and energetic by the end of the month!
Humans are social creatures, for the most part.We live in organized family units and work together to raise our young and care for the elderly.We need social interaction to provide security, a sense of belonging and inclusion, and to improve our well-being which will lead to increased happiness.Although the winter months may make you want to curl up on the couch and hibernate; you may find that you are left feeling exhausted and depressed in a short period of time.Join an exercise or art class, invite friends over, or volunteer at an animal shelter.The simple act of doing and joining can make a world of difference- turning that winter frown upside down!
Find a hobby
Maybe you have always wanted to be an exercise instructor, learn to play the piano, or try to do your own French manicure.Now is the time to take the plunge.Help your winter days become more interesting by trying or learning something that has always been on your bucket list.It may be difficult at first, but think of how proud you will be when you’ve mastered that new skill or had that desired experience. Go out and explore and experiment, it may make your winter season brighter!
Vow to find pleasure in the season
If you are someone who hates the shortened, gray days or does not like to be cold, winter can feel unending and brutal.Finding a way to embrace this time of year may seem impossible, but open your mind to it.Try sledding or snow tubing, skiing or snowboarding, ice skating or snowshoeing. Remind yourself that that the winter chill is invigorating as you take your dog for his 6 am walk. Remember that your body does burn more calories as it keeps itself warm, a positive effect of cold weather.However you do it, remember it is mind over matter. Get your brain to buy in to the joys of winter and your body will have to follow.
For those who suffer from more than a mild case of the blues and dislike of winter weather, please visit your doctor. There are times when these self-help ideas cannot make a dent in how you are feeling and coping. If this is the case and you feel that your depressive symptoms are more severe, medical attention and treatment is required. Ask for help in getting on the right track to a healthy well-being.
Carolyn Cautilli, DNP, CRNP serves as Director of Employee Health at Woods. She lives in Langhorne, PA with her husband, David, and two daughters. She chooses a great attitude everyday (even in the winter).