I know, at least in my neck of the woods, we are headed out of the shorter, colder winter days into a seemingly early spring. Yippee! However, my winter blues had a late start this year, and now with the impending spring, I am hopeful they will be short-lived.
I first began to notice a marked difference between my summer and winter self in my early 20s. And though my symptoms were never severe enough to disable me, it made life for me less physically and mentally healthy. However, for anyone suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), these same symptoms can be severe enough to debilitate them. Changes in season trigger these feelings of sadness, typically as we head into the winter months, and especially for those of us with cold winters who live far from the equator. We may feel sluggish, want to sleep more, and our appetites may change along with our weight, which are common complaints due primarily to the disruptions with our internal clock and serotonin and melatonin levels. Most of us are not outside as much in the winter, and, when we are, sunshine is not nearly as plentiful. And, like most living things on our Earth, sunshine is integral to our overall health.
So, how do we keep on with our healthy living into the fall and through the winter? Here is a list of therapies for both the mild and more severe symptoms that I have used and noticed a difference with battling my own winter blues and a few that are new to me:
- Eat Healthy: We have known for quite some time that the foods we eat greatly affect our mood. This makes it very important that throughout the colder months we are getting warm, nourishing, nutrient-dense foods. As for the foods that cannot or do not provide needed symptom relief, there are several supplements that may help.
- Take Your Supplements: Vitamin D, B6 and folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, St John’s wort, and SAMe are the heaviest hitters when it comes to relief from depression and its associated symptoms. However, several of these therapies may interact with other medications, so it is best to consult with your medical professional if you are unsure. The types of supplements along with their dosages are discussed in greater detail here.
- Exercise: As I’m sure you’ve heard before, moderate physical activity increases energy level. Therefore, this an excellent and healthy way to fight the fatigue. A great option is yoga, not only for its physical benefits but its link to improved mental health as well. Besides indoor exercise, there are also several outdoor winter activities to choose from. So, on those sunny winter days, pick one, bundle up and enjoy the dual benefits of exercise and that precious winter sunshine!
- Keep a Schedule: We’ve already talked about the importance of a daily routine here. And it’s all the more important as we shift into those months that are more difficult for us. Besides, sleeping more will only make you more tired. Unfortunate, but true.
- Vacation: If a warm weather retreat is an option for you, then I strongly recommend it. If I am able, I choose to do my winter vacationing towards the end of January into early February. After the holidays and things have settled down, I find it’s a great break in my remaining winter months to get me through to the thaw. One week is great, but two is ideal!
- Light Therapy: Finding a sunny location in your home to sit and soak up some rays is not only enjoyable, but beneficial. However, if such a location does not exist for you or you find it is not enough, then a light box may be needed. Being near bright light that mimics natural sunlight each day has been linked to mood changes in up to 80% of those being treated for SAD. However, choosing the right light box and knowing how to use it is very important as some can be damaging to the eyes or skin if the inappropriate one is purchased or it is used incorrectly. It is best to consult with your medical professional if you are unsure.
- Acupuncture, Meditation and Massage: I have experimented with all three of these therapies, and I have yet to walk away from one of them without feeling better than before. That is enough proof for me that they are beneficial for my mind, and these benefits are all the more important to experience in those days or months when we feel disturbances within ourselves.
As individuals, we all fall somewhere different on the spectrum of corresponding woes that wash over us throughout the year, and most especially during winter. So, while I have found solace with many of the listed therapies, it is up to each of us to find what works best to stay at our most healthy.