By Kelly, Contributing Writer
With all this extreme weather, it’s no wonder that some are feeling a little blue. But even mild winters can cause a legitimate condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a.k.a. the Wintertime Blues.
In fact, as many as 20 percent of Americans are affected by SAD each winter. The condition is most often characterized by moodiness, depression, cravings for simple carbohydrates, weight gain, fatigue and melancholy. SAD can range from simple "wintertime blues" to full blown incapacitation. Interestingly, this condition tends to be more prominent in young people and women.
What causes the Wintertime Blues?
Decreased sunlight during the winter months is the main reason why people develop SAD, since less daylight can disrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythm (body clock). That’s because melatonin, a hormone that makes us feel sleepy, is triggered by darkness.
So when sunlight significantly decreases, some individuals may experience increased melatonin levels during the day. Over time, this can result in a tired, less motivated mindset that may lead to the wintertime blues.
On the brighter side, the neurotransmitter seratonin, which is triggered by sunlight (and a healthy diet), makes us feel happy. Unfortunately, people with SAD have low levels of serotonin, which leads to those oh-so-tiresome wintertime blues and blahs.
But rather than giving in to the blues, the good news is You Can Beat It!
1. Get Some Sun!
Natural sunlight not only helps our bodies produce Vitamin D, but it also greatly improves our mood.
Unfortunately, the shorter and darker days of winter, combined with the cold weather, often results in people spending a lot less time outdoors. This lack of sunlight can cause many people to become SAD without realizing why.
Similar to exercise (see below), sunlight helps to release neurotransmitters in the brain that improve mood and feelings of wellbeing.
So even though it may be cold, why not enjoy some fun in the winter sun by taking a brisk walk in the great outdoors. Or how about a fun romp in the snow with your kiddos?
Taking a walk, going for a hike, throwing snowballs, building a snowman and shoveling snow are all great ways to enjoy the season while getting a little sun, and burning calories. Plus, it’s great justification for enjoying a delicious mug of hot cocoa when you come back inside.
2. Let there be Light!
If you live in a region where the weather is particularly dark and dreary, it’s not always possible to get outside. So investing in light box therapy is a great way to help boost your mood since light therapy mimics the positive effects of natural sunlight.
Light therapy can help to normalize circadian rhythms, while also naturally increasing serotonin levels, both of which help to alleviate seasonal depression. In fact, studies have shown that just two weeks of quality light therapy treatment resulted in significant improvement in up to 80 percent of those who experience wintertime sadness. (Source: YumaLite)
3. Get Moving!
When feeling blue, it's tempting to reach for your snuggie and retreat to the couch. However, a better option is to reach for your gym bag instead.
That’s because a good dose of exercise helps to pump oxygen into the brain, which releases endorphins that contribute to increased energy and feelings of wellbeing.
By engaging in at least 30 minutes of exercise three times a week, you’ll not only help improve your mood, but also help to increase your metabolism too.
4. Enjoy a Healthy Diet
As real foodies, we all know that what we eat plays a major role in our health. But did you know that food also impacts our brain chemistry and our mood as well? It’s true!
To combat the wintertime blues, it’s important to focus on foods that increase and stabilize serotonin levels – the mood-improving hormone that tends to decrease in the winter. Foods high in tryptophan (a building block of serotonin), as well as foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids, complex carbs and vitamin B6 can all improve your body’s ability to produce serotonin.
What are some good sources of these helpful blues-fighting foods? Glad you asked.
• Tryptophan is a beneficial amino acid that can be found a variety of foods such as lean meat, chicken, turkey, seafood, eggs, cheese and yogurt.
• Be sure to complement with complex carbohydrates, which are necessary to properly process the tryphtophan. Complex carbs such as vegetables, brown rice, sweet potatoes, oats and beans are amazing sources of nutrition and can also help promote serotonin production.
• Omega-3 fatty acids can help to increase serotonin levels as well. Cold-water fish (including fish oil supplements) and oils derived from walnut, olive and flaxseed, and leafy greens are all good dietary sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.
• Vitamin B6 is another great tool for increasing serotonin production and can be found in wholesome foods such as peppers, oats, brussel sprouts, cabbage, asparagus and leafy green vegetables like kale.
5. Consider Supplements
There are several all-natural remedies for beating SAD, such as herbal supplements, homeopathic treatments, essential oils and more. These remedies can be especially helpful in bringing relief and further aiding in the production of serotonin for those suffering most from SAD.
However, rather than just going it alone in deciding which remedies and dosages you should take, it’s best to speak with a trusted healthcare practitioner for evaluation and counsel on what the best options are for you.
6. Get Some Shut-Eye
Not only is the right amount of sleep important when you’re feeling down, it’s the key to good health in general.
Aim for 7-9 hours each night but not more, as too much sleep can contribute to low energy levels. And be sure to keep your bedtime and wake-up time consistent since this healthy habit is key to stabilizing your body’s natural circadian rhythm.
7. Think Positive!
Filling your find with positive, encouraging thoughts can help to transform your outlook on life – not just during winter, but all year long.
And I can’t think of a better way to renew our minds than through daily time in God’s Word.
Reading and meditating upon God’s promises and the hope that we have in Him can help turn a dark and dreary day into a beautiful time of enlightenment and sweet communion with the Lord. His word encourages us to think upon those things that are pure and lovely (Phil 4:8) – and those positive thoughts not only have the power to transform our mood, but more importantly our lives.
It’s easy to get into a wintertime-funk and just want to mill around the house in your PJs all day. But it’s especially important if you're feeling SAD to get out and socialize!
Spending time with family and friends who you can share a laugh with can truly be the best medicine. In fact, spending time with positive, joy-filled people can be just what the doctor ordered to help rejuvenate and lift your spirits and theirs too!
A Spring in Your Step!
For the vast majority of those experiencing SAD, following the simple steps above can truly help you to shake the blues! So take a walk or hit the gym, get some sunshine or bask in the light, and be sure to eat right, as well as schedule time to fellowship with family and friends.
And before you know it, spring will arrive and with it the joys of longer days, warmer weather and happier spirits!