When I lived in Maine, I worked at a mom-and-pop health food store and without fail, each January and February a gang of depressed customers would drag through the door in search of something to alleviate the winter doldrums. In Seattle, known as the “Suicide Capital of the United States,” the effects of winter are even more severe, thanks to an absurd lack of sunshine during winter months paired with never-ending drizzle and gray skies.
Characterized by lethargy, excessive sleep and an overall crummy mood, the “winter blues” or seasonal affective disorder, is quite real and can have a major effect on your life, especially if you live in a cold, damp climate with an outstanding lack of sunshine.
Winter’s early darkness and cold weather can make anyone feel a bit blah, but if your symptoms are interfering with your normal lifestyle, you may have seasonal affective disorder. Luckily, there are ways to combat seasonal depression. Try the following methods to alleviate your winter blues and learn to love the season of darkness and chills.
1. Light Therapy: It isn’t so much the cold, damp weather that drives people crazy during the winter, but rather the lack of sunshine. After several days of cloudy gray skies, a sunny afternoon can feel like nature’s medicine. And it is – your body and brain need vitamin D to function properly. Try to get outside at least once a day in the winter for a half-hour stroll in the sun, and if you are stuck in a dreary climate where that isn’t a possibility, consider purchasing a “S.A.D. Lamp” for light therapy. This special lamp is designed to combat the effects of the winter blues by providing a bright light that mimics the rays of the sun.
2. Melatonin: A naturally occurring compound found in plants and animals, melatonin is a hormone that helps to regulate your body’s circadian rhythm and establish a sleeping cycle. Also beneficial for some people with sleep disorders, a supplement of melatonin may help reduce the winter blues. Talk to your doctor about the correct dosage and use.
3. Friends: Often winter is depressing because we are less active, preferring to stay inside in the cozy warmth to venturing out in the cold to meet friends. However, good conversation and shared laughter is a guaranteed depression reducer. Plan an outing with friends or ask them over to dinner if you don’t want to leave the nest.
4. Move: Since I moved to Southern California, the land of eternal summer, my seasonal malaise has disappeared altogether. A lousy climate may be affecting your mental state more than you realize; if your seasonal symptoms are excessive, consider moving to a place where there is plenty of sunshine and blue skies.
5. Professional Help: Seasonal affective disorder can cause serious depression. If you feel down in the doldrums more often than not during the winter for a prolonged period of time, please seek the help of a professional, who can help you with cognitive therapy or prescribe antidepressant medication.