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This time of year, it’s easy to feel what’s known as seasonal depression. Just look out the window! The weather outside, for the most part, is blah and gray. Kinda mirrors your spirits, right? Makes you feel a little gray on the inside, too? No energy? Harder to get out of bed in the morning?
Mild seasonal depression, also known as “the winter blues,” is common for many people this time of year. I found myself really looking forward to Spring the other day, and was getting frustrated with all the things I wanted to be able to do outside but am not able to do yet. I get antsy to start on landscaping projects and plant a garden. My daughter even wanted to fire up the lawn mower yesterday and go outside to mow! But for now, we are stuck looking out the windows at the gray, windy skies.
Season depression seems to affect my daughter more than me, and she suffers more from the winter blues. She gets cranky and depressed, more often than not. My grandmother was that way. She got the winter blues bigtime when I was growing up. We didn’t know there was a name for it back then; we had never heard of seasonal depression. Severe seasonal depression is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Rather descriptive, right?!
If you seem to feel more depressed and irritable this time of year, here are some simple ways to minimize those feelings of seasonal depression.
1. Make your environment brighter.
One of things that makes us happy is sunshine, so use the brightness of sunshine to raise your spirits. Open your blinds and curtains to let more natural light into the house. If you are using heavy, lined drapes to help with the energy efficiency of your home, like I am, you may be torn. Should I open the curtains to let in the light, but also let out some heat? Your choice. But I would suggest that if the sun is out, you can kill two birds with one stone – let in some light and also let in some heat as well. So go for it! Let the sun shine in!
You can also invest in a light box which provides artificial light to mimic sunlight. Sitting near the light box for about 30 minutes per day should do the trick.
2. Look for foods to boost your mood.
Try adding some omega-3 fatty acids to your diet; salmon or tuna are great for these, or add an Omega-3 or fish oil supplement to your vitamin routine. One 9-month study on bipolar disorder was discontinued after only 4 months because the addition of omega-3 fatty acids was so beneficial to the patients, and helped to smooth out their moods.
You can also try eating high-carb snacks when you feel the blahs coming on. High-carb foods that are low in protein and low in fat have an easier time getting an amino acid called tryptophan to the brain, where it morphs into serotonin, and serotonin is the “feel good” chemical. A slice of whole wheat toast with a drizzle of honey may do the trick. Or a toasted English muffin with blackberry jam. And yes, even chocolate will help to raise your mood. (Yes, please! I can totally get behind that idea!) But use it in moderation; just a little piece should be all that is needed.
There is also evidence that a lack of copper in your diet may cause you to have a harder time getting to sleep at night, and then feel less rested in the morning. Try eating foods that are higher in this mineral, like bananas, chicken sandwich, sliced avocado or ½ a baked potato.
Here is great article from Prevention on 15 Mood Boosting Foods
3. Get Busy and Exercise
Exercise is a proven way to bust the blues. Getting your body moving is a classic prescription for raising your spirits and feeling more relaxed and calm. Exercise releases dopamine (there’s that dopamine again) and makes your brain happy, along with the rest of your body. And it doesn’t have to be an hour long sweat-fest to get results. Just a 30-minute walk, five times per week will make a HUGE improvement in your outlook. And your waistline, as well. Or suck it up and put in an hour-long session, three times per week and you will be seeing results as well. The point is to MOVE!
Oh, and exercising under bright lights is best, since we already discussed how bright light can improve your mood. So get out in the sunshine, or go to your brightly-lit neighborhood gym to work out.
4. Mood (Lifting) Music
Upbeat music lifts your spirits. It’s that simple, and we all know that. Think how energized you feel when one of your favorite songs comes on the radio when you’re driving to work! It makes your drive more enjoyable. Why not put together a “happy” playlist?! Gather songs that are upbeat and make you feel good, and put them all on a playlist; then use music to brighten your mood. Dance music, oldies, … whatever floats your boat.
5. Plan A Vacation
Give yourself something to look forward to. Make a goal, start a plan. I have discovered when I don’t have something to look forward to or plan for, I get lethargic and blah. Having something to plan toward, or a project to work on, makes me want to get out of bed in the morning. Get out those travel brochures, or start researching a cruise online. Make a list of places you want to go see, mark off some dates on your calendar, and watch your energy return!
It doesn’t even have to be a full-blown vacation! Just plan a day away on your weekend. Going somewhere else for the day gives you a fresh perspective on things. New surroundings will give you more energy, and spark new creativity. Find out what the next town over has to offer. Or go explore an area of your own hometown that you haven’t discovered yet.
6. Lend a Helping Hand
One of the best ways to leave your bad feelings behind is to help someone else. When we are helping others, we tend to forget our own negative feelings. The experience of helping someone else makes us feel good about ourselves, and that pushes aside the feelings of depression. It becomes a cycle: when you do good = you feel good, and when you feel good = you do good.
There are lots of organizations that could use your help, and your special talents and gifts. Here some ideas to get you started:
· Food bank
· Humane society or animal shelter
· National Parks
· Habitat for Humanity
· Art museums
· Local library
· YMCA or Youth outreach
· Retirement homes
· Red Cross
7. Get Outside
Fresh air and sunshine are great mood boosters. Now, you will have to gauge the weather in your part of the world, and choose when you will be able to get outside and enjoy some fresh air. I am not advocating that you get outside in the snow and rain and get sick. Use your common sense, and be safe. But if the weather permits, get out there and enjoy some fresh air and sunshine. Sunshine increases your serotonin and noradrenaline levels, and these chemicals make us happy.
There’s another factor involved in sunlight’s effect on mood, though: Vitamin D. The body creates its supply of Vitamin D from the sun’s ultraviolet rays hitting the skin, and high levels of the vitamin help the body maintain high levels of serotonin. Because of the importance of Vitamin D, you may want to think about adding a supplement to your daily diet if you’re unable to get out in the sun as often as you would like.
Seasonal depression doesn’t have to ruin your winter months. Just being aware of what is making you depressed and blue is a huge step toward changing your outlook.
What things have you found that has worked for you when suffering from seasonal depression? Share them in the comments below. Thanks!