The shorter days, longer dark hours, and colder temperatures lead to “winter blues.” Per the American Academy of Family Practice, about 10-20% percent of people may have mild winter blues, about 10 million people by the numbers.
The winter blues by definition, is the feeling of depression or deep unhappiness associated with the season of winter. The National Institute for Health calls this more of a feeling than a diagnosis.
- Get More Light: Sit by a window throughout the day, so you are exposed to more daylight. If you are able, get out and walk as much as possible. If you have a long commute to work, consider taking a 20-minute walk during your lunch break to get some sunshine. This is especially important if you work in a building without windows. Light therapy is a treatment modality for more severe cases of winter blues called Seasonal Affective Disorder. The light is meant to replace the missed daytime hours experienced in the summer and fall days. While getting outside in the natural light will not replace all the missed sunlight hours, it will provide much-missed sunlight. Don’t forget your sunscreen when taking in your vitamin D.
- Eat Healthy: While your body will crave carbohydrates when having symptoms of the winter blues, eating healthy and balanced meals, including fruit, vegetables, and fish, can help combat those sad feelings. Meal plan with healthy meals to avoid snacking on sugary treats that are abundant at the holidays. Eating sugary carbohydrates can lead to sugar spikes and drops, which can increase feelings of sadness. This doesn’t mean you cannot indulge at all, with everything in moderation.
- Be active: Keeping up a regular activity schedule will help boost your energy and your mood through the mood-enhancing chemical of serotonin. The CDC recommends 30 minutes of exercise daily, for a total of 150 minutes a week. While this can feel like an overwhelming task with long work hours, a commute, and perhaps even parenting and the taxi cab life for activities. If breaking up the exercise into 15-minute increments in the morning and in the evening is more manageable, do it. Perhaps get in 15-20 minutes of cardio in the morning and 15-20 minutes of yoga in the evening to prepare for rest and relaxation before bed.
- Get Outside: Changing your surroundings can change your mood. Bonus that getting outside during the day exposes you to more light and provides an opportunity for exercise.
- Get Plenty of Sleep: Your circadian rhythm changes with the change in sunlight, but this doesn’t always equate to more sleep during the darker hours. Getting an appropriate amount of sleep improves mood lability and can combat the winter blues.
If your winter blues continue despite utilizing healthy eating, routine exercise, and getting plenty of sunshine, and the sadness begins to interfere with your activities of daily living; this may be Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. Seasonal affective disorder is a medical diagnosis and may require medical interventions like medication. Someone experiencing SAD does not necessarily require daily medication but beginning medication and/or therapy can help manage symptoms. Contact your primary care provider, or reach out to a mental health professional if your winter blues are affecting your daily life.