Ward Off the Winter Blues
The earth leans toward deep, dark space. Shadows lengthen, and the sun travels reluctantly across the sky, sinking into the horizon long before most people are ready to bid its rays goodbye.
Many people grumble at early darkness and shorter days. The American Family Physician website says that about four to six percent of people suffer from winter depression, and another 10 to 20 percent may have mild seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
What is SAD?
Seasonal affective disorder is caused by a sensitivity that results from a lack of sunlight. Shorter winter days disrupt your body’s clock and fool your brain into producing less serotonin. But SAD’s more than just a temporary funk. Its symptoms appear in late fall or early winter and, like clockwork, disappear during spring and summer’s sunny days.
While SAD’s exact cause remains unknown, doctors have identified certain factors that can bring it on. Reduced exposure to natural light can:
● Disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm, or internal clock.
● Cause a drop in serotonin, and reduced production can trigger depression.
● Unbalance your body’s level of melatonin, another neurotransmitter that directly influences sleep patterns and mood.
This disorder was first identified, in 1984, by Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D. His research also indicated that women between age 20 and 40 are twice as likely as men to receive a diagnosis possibly because estrogen and progesterone, more prevalent in women, may be connected to SAD. The Mayo Clinic has identified other risk factors that may predispose someone to SAD that include:
● Family history
● A diagnosis of major depression or bipolar disorder
● Living far from the equator
Bears escape the winter drear by hunkering down in their caves until spring warmth coaxes them into the sunlight. But bears were built to hibernate—humans weren’t!
Mental health professionals and other experts suggest these solutions for getting a mental health boost and beating the winter blues.
● Exercise. Take a walk outside in the sunlight and burn a few calories while you’re enjoying the sunshine. Exercising for just 10 minutes a day helps stave off SAD’s effects. Play basketball with friends at a community center or gym. Turn up the tunes and challenge your kids to a dance-off or host a nightly dance party to celebrate finishing the day’s homework.
● Listen to music. A University of Missouri research study concluded that listening to upbeat music helps to make you happy. Banish the ballads and update your playlist with some toe-tappin’ tunes because cheerful music will improve your mood.
● Volunteer. When depression turns your focus inward, it’s hard to escape that rut. Try turning your focus outward. If you’re not sure what organizations in your community need help, search for some at volunteermatch.org. You can also offer to assist in your child’s classroom.
● Redecorate. Brighten your home with lighter paint on the walls. Hang mirrors to reflect the light. Rearrange your furniture so it’s facing the windows. Banish heavy curtains and opt for lighter, more translucent fabrics.
● Travel. Schedule a trip to a warm, sunny location. You’ll want to escape for at least a week to get the full benefit of sunshine therapy.
● Meditate. Meditation provides a wide variety of benefits, and practicing body mindfulness or yoga creates a sense of calm and works as a natural antidepressant.
● Socialize. Spend time with friends and loved ones to help keep your mood elevated. If you tend to hide during the winter, ask your friends to find you and drag you out into the world.
● Light therapy. If your SAD is more severe, your doctor may recommend using a light-therapy box for 30-45 minutes a day. These boxes emit artificial light that helps to compensate for a lack of natural light.
When the winter blues strikes, don’t hesitate to try different solutions to see what benefits you the most. Make time to take care of yourself by eating healthy meals (and a little chocolate!), reading a good book, spending time with friends, or doing whatever makes you happy.
Kimberly Hayes enjoys writing about health and wellness and created PublicHealthAlert.info to help keep the public informed about the latest developments in popular health issues and concerns. In addition to studying to become a crisis intervention counselor, Kimberly is hard at work on her new book, which discusses the ins and outs of alternative addiction treatments.
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