Four Steps to Beat the Winter Blues
Some call it the winter blues, others Seasonal Affective Disorder. I typically feel it shortly after the holiday season is over. It does not usually subside until the end of March, sometimes April. But despite the fact that the last two winters in Cleveland have been harsh—even for Cleveland—I am coping better than I have in years. More on that in a minute.
Research says that millions of Americans experience a serious mood change during the winter months, and that it is due to a lack of natural sunlight. I am having a bit of trouble imagining people who live in Florida or California having winter blues as intense as those of us currently staring out our windows at two feet of snow, but I guess everything is relative.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, true SAD is a type of depression. In extreme cases, SAD has been linked to staying in bed for days and even thoughts of death or suicide. This post, and my suggestions, are for the general malaise many of us tend to feel this time of year—not true depression.
Our inner clock is off because our body is tied to the cycles of day and night, while our lives are tied to the routines of work and family. We produce more melatonin—that hormone that regulates sleep and wake cycles—and, as a result feel groggy and fatigued. Trying to charge our bodies, many of us eat more—our bodies making us crave the energy we believe we’ll get from food. If we don’t choose the right foods, we simply pack on pounds.
Serotonin, one of many brain chemicals that affect mood, also varies seasonally, with lower levels in winter. The extra coffee we consume trying to wake up only suppresses that serotonin.
Before you stop reading and go back to bed, here are the four steps I’ve taken to help combat my winter blues. Until if and when I become a snowbird, these are the best options I’ve found:
1. Light therapy: I have a Verilux lightbox (thanks, Mom and Dad!) and I use it at least once a day, although ideally they should be used two or even three times a day. It’s right next to me as I work. You can buy a good one for about $100. Check out www.Amazon.com.
2. Protein: it is recommended that we consume protein three times a day, which I never seem to do. But, about six months ago, I started having a protein shake nearly every day and I can definitely feel the difference. I have tried many brands, but I love Shakeology because it tastes good and leaves me full and energized. (http://www.teambeachbody.com/en_US/nutrition-shake/shakeology).
3. Exercise: I have finally established a routine that gets me to the gym at least three times a week. I do a mix of cardio and weight-training—what my husband calls the ‘executive workout.’ I sleep better on the days I work out and I wake up more refreshed the next day.
4. Sleep: In the winter, I plan for eight hours of sleep. I can get by on less from spring through fall, but in winter months I feel better with exactly eight—no more, no less. I go to bed half an hour before I turn off the light, read 30 or so pages of whatever book is on my nightstand, and go to sleep. Our bedroom is free of electronics: no television, no computer, no cell phone. This makes my husband and I think of it as a true respite from our day.
I hope that if you suffer from the winter blues, you will give these fixes a try and get back to me. If you have taken other steps that work for you, please share them in the comments below.