The cold weather and snow finally seem to be wrapping up, but that doesn’t mean your “winter blues” are headed out the door.
In places where the sun doesn’t shine much of the year, up to 9% of Americans are impacted by SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). SAD is characterized by feeling “down” more than usual and experiencing lethargy and difficulty focusing. This happens due to lack of sunlight, causing lower than usual Vitamin D levels. Women and people of older age are more susceptible to SAD while men experience more intense symptoms.
If you’re struggling shaking out the “winter blues”, think you might be experiencing SAD, or simply struggling with this time of isolation, there are a few things you can do to feel a bit better.
Exercise. Regular movement can help ease depression. It improves your sleep, increases strength, and is a natural energy booster. It also tells your brain to release happy hormones like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphin into the body. Along with those hormones is increased blood flow which is great for body and mind. The point isn’t to focus on intense exercise, but to move your body enough to reap the benefits. This could mean going for an afternoon walk, playing in the yard with your kids, or opting for a bike ride.
Soak up some sun. Research seems to show that getting natural rays in the morning is the most beneficial for fighting depression. If you’re able to add a few minutes of morning sunlight to your day, that’s great! If that’s not an option, there are inexpensive “happy lights” or full-spectrum light bulbs that do the trick. An hour a day can leave you feeling better in no time, plus—the fresh air is an added bonus.
Take Vitamin D. The Endocrine Society recommends 1500 to 2000 IU of Vitamin D daily. Most people should have normal levels, but if you think yours may be low, your doctor can do a simple and quick blood test. If the test shows you’re low, they can recommend a personalized supplement to help get you back on track.
Try herbs and supplements. Sometimes natural remedies are the best. A study at Baylor found that six weeks of taking curcumin worked as well as Prozac to ease the blues. The herb St John’s Wort is also a traditional herbal remedy for depression. Another option is SAM-e, a synthetic form of a chemical your body creates on its own. Though taking herbs can take longer to have an impact—many people prefer trying them before medications. Before trying any herbs or supplements, consult your pharmacist about other medications you’re on and if they’ll have any complications when paired with natural remedies.
Get a good snooze. Sleep is when your body rejuvenates and replenishes. Getting consistent quality sleep (7-9 hours per night), can make a major difference when battling the blues.
Eat healthy. Some people refer to the gut as the body’s second brain. And it’s true! Your gut microbiome can influence your moods, focus, and general health. Good gut health is important for your mental and emotional health because the “good gut” microbes produce precursors for dopamine and serotonin—two essential “happy” chemicals. One thing to avoid is sugar—because it can actually worsen depressive symptoms. So, if you’re able to find something besides ice cream to crush cravings, you just might start feeling a little bit better.
Use your Brain: In the age of Netflix with Tiger King and other binge-worthy shows, it is easy to get sucked into the mindless distraction the TV offers. Studies show that stimulating your mind can reduce feelings of isolation and helplessness. Try simple activities like crossword puzzles, reading, or playing board games.
Seek help. If you can’t kick your blues, see your Clinical Mental Health counselor and your medical doctor. Depression can be a symptom of more serious illness, such as heart disease, anemia, thyroid problems or other health issues. You may have a more severe form of depression that may require adding counseling and other medical intervention.
While being isolated inside and feeling cabin fever isn’t the exact same as Seasonal Affective Disorder, the above suggestions can still help during this time of quarantine! If you are feeling extra tired and depressed right now, you’re not alone! Treat yourself kindly and try these few tips to beat the blues and feel a little bit better.
Ready to talk to someone about your blues and create an individualized plan to kick them to the curb? We’re here, and we’re ready to help. Give us a call today to set up your first appointment.