When the sun goes down by 6:00 pm, many people feel that their day has been stolen from them. Productivity decreases and peppiness fades. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real and common ailment. The Mayo Clinic defines SAD as a type of depression that is related to changes in the seasons. It usually begins in the late fall and continues through the winter months. Even if you don’t officially have SAD, it’s still normal to feel a lack of energy and negative temperament changes due to short winter days. There’s not a way to force the sun to stay up, so how can you brighten your days during the winter blues?
Get as Much Light as Possible
There is a biological component involved in seasonal depression. Our bodies take cues from the sunlight. When the sunlight disappears so early, it throws off our circadian rhythms, and our bodies are left in a state of disarray. Because of this, it’s important to take advantage of the sunlight while it’s there. Make sure you open your blinds as soon as you get up in the morning. Flood your house or workspace with as much natural light as possible. You’ll find that this improves your mood, but don’t let it become a substitute for actual outdoor time. Take long walks outside before the sun goes down if you have the time. Because many people work from the time the sun goes up until the time it goes down, and because of very cold temperatures, outdoor time in the sunlight is not an option for everyone during the winter. The closest alternative to actual sunlight is artificial “sunbox” lights. These lights contain specialized fluorescent tubes that mimic the sun’s rays. Click here to view some highly rated sunbox light options.
Create a Routine
Because the lack of sunlight in the winter throws off your circadian rhythms, it is important that you find ways to maintain rhythm in other areas of your life. Follow a steady routine. If possible, try to maintain a similar routine to the one you enjoy during the summertime. Don’t let the darkness deter you from evening social events or exercise. If you’re used to going for evening runs/walks but don’t feel comfortable doing so after dark, try running around a track at your local recreation center or running on a treadmill while watching TV. Many people find treadmills to be boring, but watching your favorite show will help. If you don’t own a treadmill and your gym doesn’t provide a TV, you can use your tablet or phone. (And don’t forget that MotivHealth pays members $1 for every day they walk 8,000 steps or more, up to 20 days per month! Check out our Steps Program.)
If most of the social events you participate in take place outdoors in warmer weather, make sure you find yourself some wintertime outlets as well. It’s easy to just sit at home alone once the sun goes down, but social outlets are important for most people’s mental health. Explore new indoor hobbies with your friends. Your local recreation center offers much more than just a walking track. Consider going ice skating, rock climbing, or playing racquetball. If you’re the type who prefers less active recreation like reading, writing, or drawing, you still don’t have to stay cooped up in the house. Spend time at your local library or search for live drawing/painting groups on social media. (Social media is excellent for finding groups of people that share your hobbies.) Simply put, there are several recreational and social outlets you can participate in even after the sun goes down. Don’t succumb to a winter of boredom and loneliness.
Practice Mindfulness and Meditation
You can also try confronting your gloom through meditation or mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of becoming intensely aware of your surroundings. It allows you to focus on the present instead of anxieties you may have about the future. It involves breathing exercises that relax the body. The four main steps to mindful meditation are paying attention, living in the moment, accepting yourself, and focusing on your breathing. Learn more about mindfulness here. For more general tips on relieving stress, click here.
Keep your chin up—daylight savings will be here before you know it!
What are some ways you fight the winter blues? Comment below.
“Mindfulness Holds Promise for Treating Depression”
American Psychological Association
“Seasonal Affective Disorder”
“Tips for Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder”
Vail Health Foundation