If you’re a fan of the Game of Thrones books by George R.R. Martin, you’ll recognize “Winter is Coming” as the motto of the House of Starks. As Lords of the North, they know that they have to be ready for the hardships winter will bring. For those of us in the real world, our hardships might include colder temperatures, snow and a lot less sunshine. This change in our environment can cause us to feel down, or depressed, sometimes so much that our quality of life can be affected. This change in mood is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
Symptoms of SAD may include:
- Increased appetite with weight gain
- Loss of interest in work or other activities
- Less energy and ability to concentrate
- Unhappiness and irritability
- Increased sleep
- Sluggish movements
- Social withdrawal
Instead of hibernating this winter, take action to lessen the impact that SAD has had on you in the past. Consider these great suggestions by Alex Orlov, a writer for Life by DailyBurn, in his article, “9 Ways To Cope With Seasonal Affective Disorder:”
1. Soak up morning sunshine.
According to Kalayjian, winter blues will be worst in the mornings when you’re rousing yourself from bed. She tells clients to open curtains as much as possible to get exposure to natural light right when the body is waking up.
2. Maintain your routine.
“The most helpful thing is to try to keep up everyday activities,” says Rohan. Once daylight savings time occurs, don’t neglect your favorite hobbies just because winter spurs an impulse to hibernate. You’ll feel better knowing you’re still making it to your weekly book club, basketball game or brunch with friends.
3. Work it out.
During a killer gym session, the brain works hard to override the temporary feelings of discomfort by telling the body to keep pushing. You’ll naturally release endorphins, which will make you feel happier and even euphoric. A meta-review published in the American College of Sports Medicine Journal in 2013 suggested that, for some individuals, exercise might be comparable to therapy or anti-depressants as an effective treatment for depression.
4. Flip a switch.
Research suggests that light boxes can help up to 50 percent of people who suffer from SAD. The bright light emitted from these devices helps the body awaken in the morning and decreases the hormone melatonin that keeps us asleep at night. And for those seeking a quick fix: Studies show that light therapy can spur a mood lift in just several days. “Based on the literature, [light therapy] is a very effective treatment,” says Rohan. However, since the FDA does not regulate light boxes, she recommends consumers pursue light therapy under the supervision of a professional. “It takes some trial and error to get it just right,” she says, emphasizing that timing, positioning and potential side effects should all be discussed with an expert before you begin treatment.
5. Ditch the sugar.
It’s common knowledge that too much of the sugary stuff will make us gain weight and puts us at risk for developing diabetes and certain cancers. And research shows that sugar has a sour effect on mental health, too. Countries that consume the most sugar have higher rates of depression, and scientists hypothesize that it hinders the body’s ability to cope with stress and can worsen anxiety. Many people crave sweet and starchy foods in the wintertime because they provide a temporary energy boost, but these treats will ultimately leave you just as sluggish as before. Instead, opt for eating complete meals with good sources of protein and fiber.
6. Get outside.
Both Rohan and Kalayjian recommend breathing in some fresh air each day. Studies confirm that spending time outside can relieve stress, so bundle up and brave the cold for at least five minutes to lift your spirits. “It turns out that going for a walk in the morning after sunrise can be especially effective,” says Rohan. “It gets light to the retina, but it’s also physical activity.” Two birds, one stone!
7. Develop wintertime interests.
Bummed that you can’t play beach volleyball every weekend? Rohan recommends finding substitutes for the mood-enhancing activities you enjoy in the summer. “Having fun is central to having a good mood,” she says. “What are things to do in winter that are fun to do?” Strap on some snowshoes, check out a new fitness class, take a spin on an ice rink or step up your game in the kitchen — you just might find a new passion.
8. Practice relaxation.
Some down dog could help you get out of the dumps. Practicing yoga, studies show,can alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Plus, preliminary research on meditation reveals that breathing exercises and mindfulness exercises can actuallychange neural networks and decrease stress. Kalayjian also recommends progressive relaxation, a technique that promotes body awareness by tensing and relaxing muscle groups throughout the body.
9. Book a trip.
Prepare for takeoff, because quality vacation time will certainly boost your mood. Those that suffer from seasonal depression will benefit from additional sunshine if they head south, but taking a break from work is important for anyone’s mental health. Studies show that people even experience pleasure from anticipating trips. “Across the board, SAD patients will tell you they feel better [after vacation],” says Rohan. But she cautions against depending on getaways for happiness. “I think it’s important to learn to tolerate the place where you live instead of jumping on a plane.” While you count down the days ’til your beach holiday, find ways to get joyous about the winter wonderland in your own backyard. (See full article here.)
Winter is coming. Be Ready!
Martin, George R.R. Game of Thrones. New York: Bantam Books, 1996. Print.