Defeating the Winter Doldrums

After planning and shopping in preparation for the holidays, all of a sudden the holidays are over and the cold, bleak winter months are in our midst. Most people experience a letdown after the holidays, but there are others who go beyond the mere winter blues. The lack of daylight during the winter months has a depressing effect on many people with a very real disorder called seasonal affective disorder or SAD. Anyone suffering with the winter blues or SAD can make it through the darkest, coldest months of winter by making some simple lifestyle changes.

Seasonal affective disorder is different than the “winter blues” when a person feels sad and lacks the normal amount of energy. SAD has the added symptoms of depression that creates the need to make adjustments in lifestyle such as exercise, walking outdoors in the sunshine and eating a balanced diet. SAD is a result of a neurotransmitter chemical imbalance of serotonin and melatonin levels.

Susie Blaugh, RN, and health ministry director at The Chapel, describes the symptoms of SAD as decreased or increased appetite, craving carbohydrates or sweets, sleep disturbance and lack of energy and concentration, which make it difficult to manage life tasks. She suggests that a diet rich in raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains, brown rice, legumes and soy will help to raise serotonin levels and ease the symptoms of SAD.

Light therapy, however, has become the most effective treatment. Local lighting stores carry a wide range of full spectrum bulbs that provide really bright, white light closest to natural sunlight, and these bulbs can be purchased for the entire home. Keep in mind that most normal rooms provide about 500 to 800 LUX of light, which is substantially less than the recommended allotment. This is why many SAD sufferers purchase light boxes that offer the full 10,000 LUX of full spectrum lighting. While just 15 minutes of daily exposure helps, SAD sufferers should have one hour of exposure during normal daylight hours every day.

There are some other simple steps that people suffering from winter depression can take to create a cozy, happy atmosphere in the home: painting the walls in warm colors like reds, oranges and yellows to evoke images of happiness and energy or buying fresh flowers to add a bright burst of color to any room in the home. Mirrors, glass, stainless steel and other reflective surfaces, especially in corners and alcoves, helps keep the home from becoming gloomy by reflecting light.

Even though you may be stuck inside due to the latest snowstorm or bitterly cold polar vortex, don’t give in to the blues. Stay active and relational rather than hunkering down during the bleak winter months. Try one or all of the following tips to add some happiness to your winter:

  • Bundle up and get outdoors – even 15 minutes of direct sunlight can help.
  • Meet a friend for conversation and coffee.
  • Work out at a local gym or begin a walking program indoors.
  • Join a women’s Bible study or knitting/crocheting group.
  • Walk around your favorite store and browse.
  • Check out the local entertainment and do something new.
  • Use essential oils such as lavender or lemon to elevate mood.

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