The “winter blues” or it’s clinical counterpart, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), can take a toll on our sense of well-being this time of year, but there are adjustments we can make that can give our system a much-needed boost to combat these feelings. The “winter blues” is a general feeling of lethargy or depressed mood, but it typically does not impact your ability to engage in your daily life. SAD, on the other hand, is more severe and can be diagnosed by your healthcare professional. SAD can feel like a growing sense of hopelessness and depression which may result in social withdrawal, irritability, and severe fatigue. For those already experiencing depression, your symptoms may increase or feel more intense during this time. The good news is that in most cases, SAD is both temporary and treatable. Here are 5 lifestyle strategies to lessen the severity of symptoms associated with SAD and the winter blues:
● Light Therapy. According to the National Institute for Health, sitting in front of a light box for 30 minutes every morning (check with your physician to see what is right for you) is the first line of treatment to decrease symptoms of SAD. Light therapy lamps cost less than $40 and can be a great addition to your morning routine.
● Don’t Hibernate. While it may be tempting to hide under the blankets for the season, we are not bears! Research shows that spending 120 minutes outside each week (less than 20 minutes a day) can reduce your stress and lead to an improved sense of well-being. Avoid depriving your bodies of fresh air and all the sensory stimulation being outdoors provides.
● PLAY! Remember being a kid and waiting for your first snow day? With or without snow, you can look for ways to embrace the cold and perhaps spark a little bit of joy along the way. Grab your cameras and look for changes in the landscape, check out the frozen waterfalls at Starved Rock, take a trip to the city and ice skate at Maggie Daley Park (even watching can be fun), catch snowflakes on your tongue, or when the snow does fall, have a snowball fight or go sledding with friends. Play is good for all of us!
● Get Creative. Engaging in creative activities can provide a healthy outlet for emotions and keep them from over- stressing our bodies. Whether it’s belting out your favorite tune, shaking your hips to upbeat music, moving through yoga, journaling, or doing a paint by number, challenge your imagination and let those emotions out!
● Ask for Help. Lifestyle changes aren’t always enough. If symptoms worsen, or last longer than two weeks, please talk with your doctor to find the right type of support for you.
Kim Hinzy is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with Geneva-based Action Consulting and Therapy.