5 Tips to Beat the Winter Blues

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By Lissa Morales

With the days getting shorter and the weather getting colder, you may find it harder to get out of bed or to start the day with the same energy and vigor. While these feelings are normal, it's important to pay attention to the severity of your symptoms. About 14% of Americans suffer from seasonal mood changes—also known as the winter blues. But about 6% of us—primarily women—develop Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, a more serious subset of depression. Fall and Winter SAD often involves symptoms of low energy, irritability, appetite changes, over-sleeping, weight gain, problems getting along with others and more. If these symptoms occur regularly and are causing disruptions in your life, it’s time to seek the advice of a physician. On the other hand, if you're just muddling through the winter blues, here are a few tried and true ways to keep your spirits up.


1. Try light therapy

The idea: sit in front of a light box for a few hours each day and observe your change in mood. Light therapy is supposed to mimic natural outdoor lighting, which is said to boost your serotonin levels and affect your overall mood. What light box you choose depends on your needs. Some have a white or opaque diffuser if your eyes are particularly sensitive; others generate narrow-band light with short wavelengths to provide blue-light therapy. (Click here for a list of the best light therapy lamps.) Whichever light you choose, make sure it: (1) provides an exposure to 10,000 lux of light and (2) provides the full spectrum of bright white light while emitting as little UV light as possible. You can also begin exposing yourself to more daylight naturally by cutting tree branches that block sun at home, opening blinds, and sitting closer to windows at work and at home.

2. Resist cabin fever

It may seem like everyone is indoors, so this can be a pretty isolating time. As hard as it is to fight hibernation mode, it’s critical that you take, at least, small steps to connect with friends and family. Go for a walk with a neighbor. Invite a friend over for dinner. Take your coffee in a local coffee shop and strike up a conversation with someone. Or head to the mall, and pamper yourself in an aural bath of ambient music, bright lights, and the chatter of conversation. Connect when you can, as often as you can.

3. Exercise and eat well

Implementing a consistent health routine can become a major tool in combatting depression. Physical exercise is proven to relieve the stress and anxiety that makes the winter blues even worse. And by eating fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins—rather than carbohydrate-laden processed foods and sugary sweets—you'll avoid feelings of sluggishness on days when it’s tough enough to muster the energy to work out or even emerge from the bedcovers. Ask your primary care physician to help you begin an exercise plan that works best for your health status and lifestyle.

4. Try COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY 

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This effective form of therapy for depression helps you identify negative thought patterns and gradually break them in order to form new, positive thought patterns.

Read more about this practice here, and for more information and advice on finding therapists who practice CBT, see the American Psychological Association’s Psychologist Locator


5. CONSIDER MEDICATION

If your symptoms are persistent and severe, talk to your doctor about treatment options. If you’re averse to antidepressants, discuss your concerns and ask if you can take low doses seasonally, as the weather starts to change. The bottom line is you needn’t suffer. Your physicians want to help you find the right treatment, based on your goals and values. Partner with them to get it right.