How to Beat the Winter Blues
If you had forgotten we were in the throes of Winter. Positioned high in the northern hemisphere, Ireland has particularly dark and dull winters, some days passing by with hardly any daylight at all. This can often have a powerful affect on people and can lead to a form of depression known as “winter blues”, or, as doctors call it, season affective disorder (Sad).
The effects of Sad, like other forms of depression, can penetrate many aspects of a person’s life. People suffering from Sad can experience setbacks in their relationships and at their work as they gradually withdraw from friends and loved ones, as their energy dwindles and their concentration exhausts. Like other forms of depression, Sad is not an either/or condition but includes a spectrum of symptom, as it affects everyone differently. In severe cases it can be disabling and in others it can simply be a drain on the ability to be happy. A study conducted in Maryland found that at over 4% of the adult population suffered from Sad, while three times that amount suffered from the milder form, the winter blues.
Dark days, heavy rain, and long working hours all contribute to this seasonal condition. Unlike some diseases it isn’t simply a case of either having it or not; anyone can potentially fall into the winter blues, or with high stress levels fall one step further into Sad. The good news is that just as certain factors can bring on the condition, there are also things people can do to combat it. Here are our tips for avoiding season affective disorder this winter.
Recognise the problem
Sad can be hard to recognise because its symptoms are subtle, but here are a few things you might experience that could be early signs of the condition: decreased energy, fatigue, wanting to sleep more, craving sweets and pasta, slacking off at work. It you understand the condition early on it will be much easier to take the appropriate steps to overcome it.
There aren’t many hours in the day when this is possible; morning is often your best bet. A walk can work wonders but if you don’t have the time for that you can take steps to ensure that you are getting as much light into your home as possible. Keep you curtains open during daylight hours; trim any hedges that might be blocking out light; wash windows. Bulb light can also help, so it might be a good idea to put your bedside lamp on a timer that turns on half an hour before you get up in the morning. Or if you want to ease into it, a dawn simulator will bring gradual light to your room as you wake.
Get a light box
If you still don’t feel you are getting enough light, you might think o investing in a light box. These are light fixtures specifically made to help people overcome Sad. When looking for a light box, the best ones are those which have florescent light bulbs behind a screen that filters out UV light, and have an illuminated area of at least one square foot. This treatment works best in the morning. Light therapy can have side effects including headaches, eye strain, irritability and insomnia (another reason why using it in the morning is best).
In winter it is much harder to leave the couch and go to fun events. Leaving the house can feel like a battle, but evidence shows that confronting negative thoughts and doing things that lift your spirit can be a great help.
This one can be combined with getting more light if you take a brisk walk or run in the morning. Alternatively, working out can be something for you to do while in front of a light fixture.
You might be feeling a craving for pure sugars or white starch but they are best avoided. They can provide a temporary boost of energy but they will also release insulin and cause drops in blood sugar – which will lead to more cravings. What you should try instead are low-impact carbs such as processed oats, legumes, almonds, and walnuts. These are high in protein and will help control those sweet cravings.
Meditation is a good way to reduce stress levels and therefore improve your immune system. While there isn’t any published study to support meditation as a treatment for Sad, there have been many claims that it can help.
Ask a professional
Overcoming such conditions by yourself is easier said than done. If you find that self-help is not enough you should consult with a doctor.