Cold temperatures, 5 PM sunsets, and a bleak landscape got you feeling a little blue this month? You are not alone. An estimated 10-15 percent of Americans report a mood shift during the winter months. Fewer sunlight hours, the main culprit of seasonal mood shifts, affects us in a number of ways:
Decreased Vitamin D, an essential nutrient we get from UV light, can cause fatigue and changes in mood.
Disrupted circadian rhythms can interrupt sleep and natural rhythms of the day.
Drop in Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood, may trigger depression.
Below are a few things you can do in your daily routine to combat the winter blues.
Enjoy some sunlight – If weather permits, take a walk outside and soak up some sun. In colder climates, find a sunny window and bask in the sunshine while you enjoy a warm cup of coffee or tea. If you work in an office without windows and commute in the dark, consider investing in a light therapy box.
Exercise – Taking a 20-30 minute brisk walk can help elevate your mood. Too cold to go outside? Perhaps try indoor pursuits like Yoga or Tai Chi. These practices have been studied for their effectiveness in treating depression.
Laugh (a lot) – Laughter is good medicine. Did you know laughter reduces the levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, in your body? And it triggers the release of endorphins, the feel-good hormones that promote a sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain. Watch your favorite comedy, watch hilarious animal videos on YouTube, or meet up with friends and have a good belly laugh.
Cultivate positivity in your environment: Enjoy a warm fire, grow indoor plants, spend time with friends, or take part in your favorite hobby. While you might not be able to control the weather, invest your time and energy in things that you can control that bring you happiness.
While approximately 55 million Americans report feeling the winter blues, it is important to differentiate between winter mood shifts and a more serious condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder(SAD), which may require treatment by a professional. Treatments might include light therapy, medication, or counseling. Symptoms of SAD include:
Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
Having low energy
Having problems with sleeping
Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
Feeling sluggish or agitated
Having difficulty concentrating
Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty
Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
While both mild winter blues and SAD can disrupt your life, the good news is it is treatable. Take steps to care for yourself and reach out if you need help.