As someone who loves sunshine and warm weather and being outside, I have a really difficult time during the winter months. I've spent a majority of this winter in Florida, a first for me, and I can't tell you how different I feel mentally. Typically, spending winter months in New York, inside, going to work and leaving work in the dark, and battling the cold, ice and snow leaves me feeling isolated, unmotivated and sometimes, really, really lonely.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons, and it starts and ends around the same time every year. This type of depression can make you feel moody and really tired. There are scientific reasons behind why some of us feel this way. The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter can disrupt your internal clock (circadian rhythm) leading to feelings of depression. Also, less sunlight means less serotonin production, which is a neurotransmitter in our brain that affects our mood. Additionally, the change in season can affect how our bodies product melatonin, which helps regulate our mood and plays a role in how we sleep and if we feel rested.
Unfortunately, for us women, SAD is often diagnosed in more women than men, and typically affects younger adults more often than older adults. If you feel down for multiple days at a time, or if you can't get motivated to do certain activities that you normally enjoy, you should see your doctor, especially if this is affecting your sleep or your appetite, you feel helpless or hopeless, or you are using things like drugs or alcohol to cope.
Here are some additional things you can do on your own if you're experiencing the winter blues (however, not to replace seeing a medical professional).
Try Light Therapy (Phototherapy)
Light therapy is a way to treat SAD (along with some other conditions) by being exposed to artificial light. During a therapy session, you sit or work near a device called a light therapy box, which gives off a type of light similar to natural outdoor light. You could purchase your own light therapy box, but it's a good idea to talk with you health provider first, just to ensure that light therapy is a good option for you.
Take/Eat Vitamin D
Having enough vitamin D helps our bodies combat a lot of different diseases, and because winter months typically mean less sun for most of us, it's a good idea to take a vitamin D supplement in the winter (if not all year round). If supplements aren't really your thing, you can also ensure you're getting enough vitamin D in your diet by eating fish (swordfish, salmon, tuna, sardines), yogurt, eggs and drinking milk.
Make a Read/Watch To Do List
This is one that always helped me during long winter months. I love scary movies and I love to read books, so I always take time right after the new year to make a list of a bunch of movies that I want to watch and books that I want to read. It helps give me something to do when it's dark and/or cold outside and I don't feel like leaving the house.
Try Something New
Did you know that when we learn something new, our brains change thanks to brain activity where neurons become wired together. Trying something new essentially makes our brains more efficient, and makes us feel better in the long run. I love trying new recipes, learning a new instrument or learning a new workout routine.
Wake Up with the "Sun"
For those of you who are like me and have an extra difficult time waking up when it's still dark out, there are dawn simulators, which make the lights in your bedroom (or wherever you sleep) to gradually turn on and become brighter over a period of time, which makes it easier to get out of bed and creates a more natural way to wake up.
A Harvard study suggests that walking fast for about 35 minutes a day, five times a week, or 60 minutes a day, three times per week improve symptoms of mild depression. I use a FitBit and track my steps every day to make sure I'm staying active, even on long work days. It's helped me to stay more productive throughout the workday, and it sends me little reminders if I haven't walked in awhile. Excerising under bright lights helps with seasonal depression, too.
It's also been proven that both meditation and aromatherapy can drastically decrease symptoms of mild seasonal affective disorder. Creating a routine for meditation during times of the day you struggle the most can help keep your mind positive. Additionally, using aromatherapy candles or essential oils can influence the part of the brain that helps control mood and our internal clocks, which affects sleeping and eating patterns. Adding a few drops of essential oils to a diffuser or even a bath at night can help promote relaxation, mental stability and clarity.
Some of us may need to take specific medications to relieve SAD symptoms, and talking with your health provider can help determine which medications are best for you. I've always believed that being an advocate for your own mental health is important, and vital, to live a healthier, happier life — and I've always had to work extra hard on my mental health during the winter months. I know so many people are in the same boat that I am. Hopefully, some of the things I've listed will help you combat your winter blues, too.