Combatting Seasonal Affective Disorder
Some people are thrilled by the prospect of winter on the horizon. Snow sports, bundling up, and crisp, white days with sunshine reflecting everywhere. Yet others feel a familiar sense of dread as the days become shorter.
Do you feel blue during the winter months? If you’re someone who dreads winter because you’ve felt sad and low for the past few winters, you may be naturally susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder. Symptoms include decreased energy, increased carbohydrate cravings, hopelessness, apathy and a low, blue outlook on life.
Some researchers believe that the mood variations occur due to a lack of light. Anthropological theorists argue that modern day humans have an evolved adaptation of an earlier hibernation response…passed down by our remote ancestors from the animal kingdom.
Regardless of the causes, those people who really do experience the low-energy slump of the “Winter Blues” may benefit from a bit of assistance to get through the season, and make it out the other side on top, rather than having to rebuild a life that’s been frozen on hold, in a state of grayness and apathy.
3 things are crucial in your battle against the darkness: Light, Exercise, and the Outdoors.
In order to feel energetically balanced, it’s important for your body to have access to natural light. For years, clinicians have been using Light Therapy to treat patients with depression and SAD. When the eyes are exposed to bright, full-spectrum light, the brain and nervous system are signaled by a spring-time sunrise effect, which induces the pineal gland to release melatonin, the hormone which regulates our sleep cycles. Light deprivation can really throw people off. Think about it: if you close all the blinds and keep a room dark, versus opening the blinds to a sunny day, which is more energizing? For many years, light therapy had to be accessed by visiting research clinics or professional therapists. Buying a light box was expensive. Times have changed though, and there are many affordable and effective products on the market. Happy Light by Verilux can be ordered online and is under $100. Philips is making a number of natural light and light therapy products. I have a friend who happily totes the Litebook (a portable solution that you can transport to your desk or bring with you travelling). Another great measure to take in wintertime is to load up your lamps and light fixtures with Natural Spectrum light bulbs, which can be purchased at health food stores, and even in some grocery aisles.
Exercise, of course, will maintain energy levels, harmonize brain chemicals (especially important for depression), as well as reduce unhealthy food cravings. Yet even with the awareness of all of these benefits, you may still need to force yourself to get moving. If you don’t want to be outside, join a class, or hire a personal trainer to keep you committed and engaged.
If you want to get outside there are many options. If it’s cold and rainy, invest in some decent waterproof (breathable) gear to bundle up in that will feel like armor against the elements. Better yet-find a friend who is into cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Both these activities have amazing cardio and calorie-burning benefits…not to mention the access to natural light (reflected off the snow magnifies the effect) and plenty of endorphins. If you don’t have the gear, one of your local outdoor recreation stores should rent snowshoes, boots and skis at reasonable rates.
In the winter, cardio is your friend. It may be one of your biggest challenges, that is, to motivate to get yourself moving. But it will also be your most rewarding solution to beating the Winter Blues.
With the task of avoiding symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, a multi-pronged approach is best. Some people supplement with Vitamin D when sunny days are scarce. There are folks who surround themselves with uplifting and bright colors to keep hopeful. When the opportunity arises, getting outside for a workout on a sunny day will be one of the smartest choices you can make. Your body will reward you with energy and a happier outlook for giving it the gifts of natural light, movement and fresh air.