Brighten Dark Winter Days – Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder and the Winter Blues

I am a self-proclaimed sun worshiper; I admit it. I know – I am going to be so wrinkly when I’m older, I’m going to have sun spots all over my body, I am going to get skin cancer. You are thinking all of things aren’t you? Unless, of course, you are a fellow sun worshiper. I am aware of the risks of sunning myself on a regular basis but the fact is – the sun makes me HAPPY! So happy! During the winter, I experience a noticeable change in my attitude (and it is not for the better). Minnesota isn’t exactly having a “normal” winter this year, however, they are generally horrendously cold, snowy and lack the sunshine I crave almost on a daily basis. Many people suffer from the same attitude change and others suffer even deeper from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a very real disorder that many people deal with every winter season. The Mayo Clinic defines SAD as, “A type of depression that occurs at the same time every year.” People usually start to experience symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder in the fall and they can last all the way through the winter months. Symptoms vary from person to person but may include:

  • Loss of energy
  • Hopelessness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Feeling sleepy more often, especially during the day
  • Lack of interest in normal activities
  • Increased appetite and weight gain

With short, dark days and long, darker nights, winter often seems like it will never end. Even if you don’t experience symptoms severe enough to be diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, you may still feel the winter blues. Here are a few tips to help you cope with the freezing temperatures and brighten your days:

  1. Get up at the same time every day. It is sure easy to hit that snooze button on a regular basis but sleeping in, even on weekends, tricks your body. Dr. Michael Terman explains, “It allows your circadian rhythms (your internal body clock) to drift later, out of sync with local time and that can trigger the lethargy and low mood associated with winter.”
  2. Even though it’s cold, get outside! Better yet, be active outside. Take a quick walk during your lunch break, go cross country skiing or on a sunny day, find a nice place to sit and soak in the rays – just make sure you wear appropriate clothing.
  3. Exercise. If it is just too darn cold to do some kind of exercise outside, make it a priority to get to the gym. If you haven’t heard, exercise is a really, really great way to fight off all bad things – depression, weight gain, poor eating habits, stress, sickness, etc… It should be a staple in your routine – period.
  4. Make your environment brighter. If you can, sit by a window at work. Add bright flowers to your desk and around your home. Turn on more lights. Lift all of the shades.
  5. Purchase a light therapy box. If you suffer from SAD, your doctor would likely prescribe this light therapy for you. Sitting in front of this box in the morning is supposed to mimic the sunrise and do wonders for your mood. If this is something you are considering, talk to your doctor first.

If you believe you are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, contact your doctor right away.

And if the cold, dark, winter months just get you down, try using some of these tips as a way to help brighten your day. Otherwise, think about taking a tropical vacation! Doesn’t that sound fun?