Written by Molly Swanberg
It’s that time of year again. Winter has been long, and according to our famous groundhog friend we still have a significant stretch ahead of us. The days are short, and the relentless wrath of Mother Nature has all too often left us trapped in our homes for hours on end. Okay, maybe that is a little dramatic but as a New Englander I have seen my fair share of snow this season and I am more than ready for the thaw of spring. This time of year is a challenge for all people in our region but proves to be especially difficult for people who suffer from depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The following are some tips on how to cope with the “winter blues” from a behavioral perspective.
Due to the shorter days and the lower temperatures people are less likely to get the amount of sun exposure that they get during other seasons. This can result in a deficiency in Vitamin D, which can contribute to depressed mood. Some people who are seasoned sufferers of SAD (try saying that ten times fast) have invested in special lamps that simulate the rays of the sun. This type of treatment may be indicated if recommended by your physician or therapist, but you can likely get the same effect by making an effort to get outdoors more during the winter months. Keep in mind that you need to have direct contact with the sun’s rays. Sitting in a window or sun-lit indoor area will not do. It is likely that the activity of going outdoors will be therapeutic in itself. Getting out of the house and avoiding isolation is very important in treating depression. So on those rare sunny winter days get up, dress in warm clothes, get outdoors, and don’t forget to wear sunscreen!
2)Keep a schedule:
Maintaining a regular sleep and activity schedule is critical when you are someone who suffers from depression. As a mental health practitioner it is very common to hear people lament about how quickly night comes and how early it gets dark. These also tend to be the people who sleep in late. For example, someone who wakes up at noon daily will have about 4 hours and 45 minutes of daylight. That in itself is depressing! Setting an alarm and getting out of bed at an appropriate hour is hugely important for combating the symptoms of depression. 4 hours and 45 minutes is not enough time in the day to accomplish all of the other tasks that are conducive to improving mood such as exercising, engaging in pleasurable activities, and even working. Starting out with such a handicap for time is problematic. In addition, oversleeping, though tempting, is not healthy. Get your 8 to 9 hours in and get moving!
Here at the Center for Anxiety we cannot talk enough about the importance of regular exercise in treating symptoms of both anxiety and depression. Having a regular fitness plan not only builds structure into your day but on a brain chemistry level it provides a noticeable boost of feel-good endorphins. Getting regular exercise tends to be easier for people in the warmer months. Most people do not prefer to go running when the temperatures are sub-zero and there is ice on the pavement. However, there are other easier ways to get your workout in. Join the local gym OR if you have a smartphone there are tons of new fitness applications you can download. If you prefer to get outdoors try winter sports such as cross country skiing, ice skating, or snowshoeing.
If you can take advantage of these tips you will be well on your way to fighting the winter blues. Time will fly and spring will be here before you know it!