The raw beauty of winter is thrilling, but its shorter days and lack of sunlight can prove a joy killer for many people. Why? Seasonal affective disorder or SAD, a form of winter depression.
Seasonal affective disorder may be caused by darker days and lower sunlight levels, which effect serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is the seasonally shifting, mood regulating hormone found in the central nervous system. It is key to the maintenance of moods, sleep, cognition, and blood vessel constriction. In the winter, the body’s internal clock is disrupted by lower amounts of sun, which also abates serotonin transporter protein, a chemical in the brain, triggering diminished serotonin levels surrounding brain cells.
Although this condition cannot be prevented, there are many proven ways to diminish SAD, which is a shorter episode than general depression. For treatment for depression in general, anti-depressants may be in order by your doctor’s prescription.
Naturally occurring vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is found in sun rays even on the cloudiest of days. Research shows perennially low levels of vitamin D exposure leads to depression, and especially more so when the sun shines briefly. One chemical free way to get more vitamin D, which is absorbed through the skin, is to go outside within two hours of awakening each day. Also, spending a mere twenty to thirty minutes outside in even partial sunshine doing simple activities like yard cleaning or dog walking can raise vitamin D levels, thus relieving depression. Peel back the curtains, blinds, and drapes and let natural sunlight in!
Serotonin levels respond to bright light treatments or photo therapy, which resemble naturally occurring sunshine. A dawn simulator is one way to safely increase sunlight intake. The simulator turns on early morn and slowly brightens, permitting your body to wake up to “natural” sunlight. Another way bright lights to elevate mood-associated brain chemicals and reduce depressive symptoms is by wearing a cap-like lighted visor or placing yourself in front of an exclusively designed light box daily for thirty minutes a day until the SAD feelings are alleviated. The light should not directly hit your eyes directly and this treatment is not recommended for those with sensitivity to light. Your doctor can advise what amount of light is best to alleviate your symptoms.
Weather permitting, take an outdoors run or walk three times a week for at least thirty minutes. Inside, pop in an aerobic exercise DVD three times a week, or lift weights. Regular exercise builds up serotonin, which gives a mood boost. Try yoga or meditation for a spiritual high.
In locales where it gets cold during winter, people have a tendency to hibernate like bears; they stay indoors to ward off the frigid temperatures and often pack on the pounds. However, eating a sensible diet without too many carbohydrates, sugar and fat is a great way to ban sluggishness that comes with reduced sunshine and activity. Additional ways to boost your physical and emotional stamina are to eat healthy, and sample the food rainbow; try depression fighting foods like oatmeal,walnuts, salmon and oranges. Snack on blueberries, strawberries and grapes for the mental energy they provide.
Visit family and friends during cold months-it will warm your spirit! Telephone an old buddy you lost contact with for a chat. Go to the movies, a concert, or play if you do not like cold weather activities. Use your computer to stay connected with others, too! Skyping, instant messaging or emailing loved ones are great energizers. Having regular positive contact with others doing cold months keeps you connected, which is another emotional well-being enhancement.
The sunless days of wintertime do not have to equate with brain inactivity or giving in to the doldrums. Whether solo or with a group, spark your happiness and intellect with puzzles and games such as seek and find, crosswords, Scrabble, Words with Friends, or Sudoku. Build brain cells and fight the blues using arts and crafts, too!
Seasonal affective disorder does not have to banish you to never-ending sadness. Simple changes can put let the sunshine in until the arrival of the vernal equinox.
Beat the Winter “Blues”, The Doctors, USA Weekend, December 7-9, 2012