Now that the holidays are over, would you rather snuggle in bed under a warm comforter instead of getting up and facing yet another cold and dark day? If so, you may be one of the estimated 10 million Americans with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), more commonly referred to as the winter blues. Signs you might have this condition include sadness, fatigue, problems sleeping, and feeling less social.
SAD surfaces in the late fall and winter when the lower level of natural sunlight in the late fall and winter can disrupt the circadian rhythm and cause a dip in serotonin, which leads to depressive symptoms. It can also lower Vitamin D levels, which is associated with depression, according to this overview of assessment and treatment approaches for SAD.
Look for the Light
One way to counter the winter blues is sitting beside a lightbox for 30 minutes each day in winter and late fall. Light therapy is one of the most researched and widely-used treatments for SAD, although you do have to be consistent. On a related note, studies also show that using a dawn simulator, a device that causes your bedside light to gradually brighten over 30 to 60 minutes in the morning, can make it easier for people to get out of bed.
Then too, instead of using equipment that mimics outdoor light, consider getting outdoors in the natural sunlight. If you like walking, find a buddy who can inspire you on the chilliest of days, or join a hiking group and get the additional healing benefits of being surrounded by nature while hiking on a trail. For Nashville dwellers, Radnor Lake provides a beautiful setting.
Still, if the thought of moving around in the cold, makes you want to shrivel up in a ball, then outdoor activities might not be the best bet. But don’t dismiss the power of exercise itself. According to this review, even modest levels are associated with improvements in depression. If you find it hard to motivate yourself, join a gym or take an exercise class in salsa dancing, cardio yoga or chair aerobics, basically, anything that perks your interest and matches your abilities. You can find dozens of fun options through community centers, senior centers, and private clubs.
Meet More People
An extra bonus of taking an exercise class is the fact that you’ll meet new people, which in itself can alleviate the winter blues. (A recent study found that older adults who interacted more with others were more likely to have a positive mood and fewer negative feelings.) Other ways to expand your network include taking a continuing ed course (many colleges offer older learners discounted prices). Senior living communities, like Blakeford, may also provide learning opportunities at little or no charge. Volunteering is another great way to meet people–not only that, doing something good for an organization you feel passionate about can stir up feel-good endorphins.
Add Passion to Your Life
Speaking of passion, be sure to plan lots of activities that bring you joy. Make plans with friends to go to the movies or to an art gallery such as Nashville’s Frist Center, if that’s your thing, or take a vacation in February, or plan for one in July. Music often has a powerful mood-enhancing effect, so play your favorite tunes (and dance along) or go to a concert.
If It’s More Serious
If you experience more serious signs of SAD (feeling down most of the time, losing interest in activities you enjoy, withdrawing, and feeling hopeless), you may need more support. Please talk to your physician or book a visit with a counselor. Keep in mind that cognitive-behavioral therapy, which can help you change how you approach life’s challenges, might be a more effective long-term treatment than light therapy.