Shake Off Those Winter Blues

February is the shortest month, and as it often appears, the month when people’s tempers, patience and energy levels are the shortest, as well. Blame it on the cold, gloomier days, lack of sunshine in general, and too much physically idle time indoors. We don’t tend to sleep or eat as well, and we don’t exercise or socialize enough. Whatever the cause, depression runs high in the dead of winter, though there are several steps we can take to keep our spirits – and energy levels – at a higher, and healthier level.

Thought it’s not the only cause, one common diagnosis for the “winter blues” is Seasonal Affective Disorder Association (SAD). This is a winter malady that causes depression, lethargy, and lack of motivation. It affects up to six percent of the U.S population, particularly women in their twenties, thirties, and forties. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that SAD can also occur in men and children and that many SAD sufferers have at least one close relative with severe depressive disorder.

The key symptoms of SAD include extreme fatigue, sleep problems, depression, anxiety, irritability, carbohydrate cravings, increased appetite, weight gain, and loss of libido. Sufferers are also more vulnerable to winter illnesses because their immune system can become weakened. Due to its symptoms, SAD can be misdiagnosed as hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, infectious mononucleosis, and other viral infections.

Here are tips to help combat Seasonal Affective Disorder and for fighting the “winter blues:”

  • Light up your day. Even if it is gray and cloudy, the effects of daylight are beneficial. In addition to more exposure to daylight, daily light therapy has been shown to be effective in 85 percent of diagnosed SAD cases. Daily light therapy involves one to four hours of exposure to lighting that is 10 times the intensity of regular domestic lighting.
  • Balanced nutrition. A well-balanced, nutritious diet will provide more energy and possibly quell carb cravings. Comfort food tastes good and it may make you feel better for the short-term, but a balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains will healthfully keep your weight in check and make you feel better in the long-run.
  • Get your supplements. Getting your recommended daily amounts of vitamins and minerals can help alleviate some of the SAD symptoms and improve your energy, particularly if you are deficient in key nutrients. There is a variety of seasonal supplements available but check with your physician or naturopath before taking mega-doses or herbal formulations. A multi-vitamin and mineral supplement may be all you need.
  • Move your body. Regardless of the time of year, regular exercise is essential for overall health. Even if the weather has you mostly relegated to the indoors, you can still head to your local gym or exercise in the comfort of your home. Getting your body moving will help you battle winter weight gain, boost your endorphins, and may even help you sleep more soundly. If dressed for the weather, walks and hikes outdoors are invigorating and good for you physically and mentally. And yoga, meditation and classes that promote group stretching and exercise are good for you physically and socially.
  • Prioritize social activities. Stay connected to your social network. Getting out of the house and doing enjoyable things with friends and family can do wonders for cheering you up. Go to a movie or make a dinner date. Plan regular social activities and, if weather permitting, get outdoors for a group ski or hike — you can meet your exercise, social and daylight needs in one shot.
  • Get help. If you have exhausted your attempts at natural remedies and the symptoms of SAD are still interfering with your daily functioning, seek professional help. Antidepressants and certain types of psychotherapy have proven effective in treating SAD and helping people cope with seasonal mood changes.

Winter is a beautiful time of year, and doesn’t have to drag you down. Take proactive steps to keep fit and healthy, and remember, the days are getting longer and spring will be here soon!

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!