Are "Winter Blues" Even Real?
When the weather is a little bit chiller and your wallet is a little bit emptier, it's hard to stay on the bright side of things. Scientifically, "Winter Blues" or Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mood disorder characterized by depression that occurs at the same time every year. Seasonal affective disorder often starts in the fall and may continue into the winter months.
Rather than brushing off your negative feelings as "winter blues" or a "holiday funk", there are some simple ways to beat this seasonal disorder and take steps toward year-long motivation.
But what are the causes of SAD? Well there a number of possibilities and while I'm not a claimed professional, I did some research of my own.
Cause: The biggest factor can be your biological clock aka your circadian rhythm. Less sunlight in the fall and winter may cause these winter blues, thus disrupting your body's internal clock which can lead to feelings of depression.
Solution: Make your environment brighter! Open the shades/curtains, turn on some aesthetic lighting, sit in buildings or areas with open/natural lighting in order to reduce the feeling of less sunlight.
For example, Michael Craig Miller, Senior Editor of the Mental Health Publishing in the Harvard Health Publications speculates that even sitting next to an artificial light for 30 minutes per day can be as effective as antidepressant medication. This artificial light is often found in 'light therapy', also called phototherapy
Cause: Serotonin levels. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression, irritability, and having trouble waking up in the morning.
Solution: Studies completed by the New York State Psychiatric Institute Biopsychology department have concluded that a dawn simulator, a device that causes the lights in your bedroom to gradually brighten over a set period of time, can serve as an antidepressant and make it easier to get out of bed. Similar to the light therapy mentioned above, you just sit a few feet from a special light box so that you're exposed to bright light within the first hour of waking up each day.
Cause: The change in season can also disrupt the balance of the body's level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
Solution: Stay technology-free an hour before going to be. Particularly blue light is highly effective in suppressing melatonin, which is the light that is emitted from our technological devices. (Have you ever wondered why so many social media apps are blue?) So if you're on your phone until seconds before falling asleep, the transient melatonin deficiency induced isn't compensated during later sleep phases. Essentially, the consequences of reductions in the levels of melatonin could be solved by the tips of your fingers.
Other copping mechanisms:
Mind-body connection techniques: this can include yoga, tai chi, meditation, music/art therapy, or guided imagery.
Eat smarter: Foods such as chocolates can help to enhance your mood and relieve anxiety. Whereas other foods provide temporary feelings of euphoria, but could ultimately increase feelings of anxiety and depression.
Exercise: Exercise and other types of physical activity help relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase SAD symptoms. Being more fit can make you feel better about yourself, too, which can lift your mood.
Practice stress management: Learn techniques to manage your stress better. Unmanaged stress can lead to depression, overeating, or other unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.
Socialize: When you're feeling down, it can be hard to be social. Make an effort to connect with people you enjoy being around. They can offer support, a shoulder to cry on or shared laughter to give you a little boost.
Take a trip: If possible, take winter vacations in sunny, warm locations if you have winter SAD or to cooler locations if you have summer SAD. Research shows that even just planning a trip can cause significant increase in overall happiness.
Aromatherapy: There are many ways to naturally treat depression, particularly with essential oils. The top four essential oils for depression are bergamot, lavender, chamomile and ylang ylang. You can use essential oils for depression topically or aromatically, usually as a cream or in a diffuser. (I have started using them for my headaches and let me tell you - they work!)
So no matter how small or big your 'winter blues' are, follow a few of these methods and see if you feel any better!