After the holidays and New Year’s pass us, many of us look ahead in anticipation for warmer temperatures and sunny days. When winter weather and gloomy skies seem to drag on, it can get many of us feeling depressed and lethargic. For some people it can even make them sad.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a psychological condition that sets in when we lose light. The disorder is linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain because of shorter daytime hours and lack of sunlight.
“It’s a whole pattern that relates to light exposure,” says Jeffrey Janata, PhD, Psychologist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. “And when we replace light in various ways, then actually, they get considerably better, even better than they would on an antidepressant.”
Whether you’re suffering from SAD or a case of the winter blues, Dr. Janata offers the following tips to help cope:
1. Increase your exposure to light. Sit by a window during the day. Get outdoors. Even on a cloudy day, 15 to 30 minutes of outdoor light might be enough to boost your mood.
2. Exercise. Being active can improve mood, increase self-esteem and help alleviate symptoms of depression.
3. Connect with others. Maintaining social relationships can help relieve stress and provide support.
4. Try light therapy. For those who yearn for natural sunlight, a light box can provide a light source brighter than indoor lights.
5. Eat a well-balanced diet. Avoid turning to simple carbohydrates for comfort. Maintaining a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats will help provide nutrients needed for mental strength.