It’s 7:25 am at Gobbler’s Knob—all eyes are on the groundhog—will he see his shadow? On February 2nd 2013, Punxsutawney Phil, the infamous woodchuck, delivered a hopeful forecast for all sufferers of winter blues this year: no shadow and a prediction for an early end to winter.
The winter blahs have a tendency to creep up on the best of us this time of the year. It’s almost to be expected that we contend with a post holiday slump, to some degree or another. But what can we do if this becomes chronic? For more than six percent of the population, the anticipation of an early spring doesn’t compensate for an annual battle with depression during the winter months. Do we resign ourselves to a bleak existence…dragging ourselves out of bed, only to feel blue….day after day, after day, after day? That sounds a bit too much like re-living Groundhog Day to me! So, if we find ourselves stuck, how do we fast-forward?
Seasonal affective disorder (also called SAD) is more than just the winter blues. In fact, it’s a marked seasonal depression that occurs at the same time every year—typically in the fall or throughout winter months. Interestingly enough, winter-onset seasonal affective disorder is diagnosed more often in women than in men, and symptoms can be many: mood changes, increased appetite changes and weight gain, lethargy, hopelessness, anxiety, poor concentration, oversleeping, social withdrawal, melancholy, gloom and irritability.
What Causes SAD?
Much evidence suggests that a decreased amount of sunlight in the fall and winter season, in addition to the shorter days of the cold months, may disrupt our body’s internal programming and rhythm—thus triggering feelings of melancholy. Another contributing factor: reduced sunlight can effect a drop in serotonin levels, which in turn affects mood, energy, and appetite—just to name a few. The change in season can additionally disrupt the balance of the natural hormone melatonin, which plays a role in maintaining helpful sleep patterns and a positive frame of mind.
Hope For The SAD Sufferer
Climbing the ladder out of our SAD burrow requires action on our part. But steps can certainly be taken to minimize the effects of both the “winter blues” and of the more serious condition of seasonal affective disorder. Here are a few ways to stamp out SAD before it destroys you…
Venture out! First things first, get outdoors and into the fresh air to soak up some sun! Light that hits our retina can change the chemistry in our brains to perk up our mood and ward off irritability. Even cloudy days can provide some sunlight to give a bit of relief for the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.
Keep fit. Exercise is one of the most effectual remedies for depression. Although it can be difficult to muster the motivation to exercise in the dreary months, try to partner up with a friend and set aside regular times during the week to train together. Exercise, even on overcast or rainy day, is essential to a healthy body and mind.
Wholesome nutrition. It’s a fact that sluggish bodies crave carbohydrates, which in turn will actually perpetuate feelings of lethargy. Therefore, balancing blood sugar levels with low sugar intake and several servings of protein throughout each day, serves to aid our bodies in maintaining an even-keeled mood.
Take your vitamins. We know that B vitamins produce the neurotransmitters that make us feel happy. Likewise, low vitamin D levels have been linked to depression. Unless we spend 15 minutes outside on a sunny day (or 1 hour on an overcast day), it’s very possible to become vitamin D deficient. A nutritional specialist can guide you in selecting a multivitamin or supplements to support these levels.
Try a light box. The measurement of intensity of light is referred to as “Lux”. For example sunlight, puts off as much as 100,000 lux. A light box can be used to substitute artificial sunlight in the dark months. But if cost is an issue, take note that those of us with mild to moderate seasonal depression may potentially benefit from bright indoor lighting.
Whatever you do, don’t wait until the winter’s darkness gets you down. Take early preventive steps to avoid experiencing another blue winter. Albeit normal to have some days when you feel down, as is the case with any self-diagnosis, we are wise to consult a physician about any symptoms that re-occur or cannot be effectively managed through our own efforts. So if regular appointments with the sun are not cutting it, or if you can’t seem to get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, it’s probably time for some professional input. A doctor may suggest: counseling, herbs, amino acids, and of course anti-depressants, to assist you in defeating the darkness.
Let’s get one thing straight, Groundhogs are one of the few species that enter into true hibernation. Our little chubby-cheeked friends belong in the dark hole of winter—not us! So Darling, here’s your homework: fresh air, a brisk walk, and a little sun on your cheeks.
Image via Modern Hepburn