Beating Back the Wintertime Blues
by guest author, Valerie Johnston
Unless you live in the tropics or have a fascination with snow, winter can be a bleak time of year. The weather is lousy, it's cold outside, flu season rears its head and there's never a good time to wash your car.
It's also the peak time of year for depression. The standard winter blues can be bad for anyone, but clinical depression is worse. It drains you of energy, robs you of your will to care about much of anything, and leaves you constantly sad about everything.
There's even a name for the kind of depression that appears every winter and vanishes for the rest of the year: seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. What makes winter the bluest time of year? The light, mostly. Or rather, the lack of it. A regular intake of sunlight is essential to people with a susceptibility to depression, so when the hours shorten during the winter, the blues are primed to strike.
But as in any other time of year, there are ways to fight back. Here are a few tips for beating back the winter doldrums.
- Get Lots of Light
Unless you live near the equator, the daylight hours recede during the winter, increasing your likelihood of depression. The most obvious way to counteract this is to get more light. Go outside as much as you can during the day. Sit near sunlight when you're at home. If you need to, get a light box: These devices work better than medication for many people with SAD. Make sure you especially get light during the morning hours, as this is when our bodies need it most.
- Plan with Your Doctor
Assuming you've dealt with depression in the past, you should have a healthcare team in place. If this is your first episode, you'll need to get a physician right away, either a psychiatrist, or a general practitioner or internist who is qualified to treat depression. Draw up a plan for combating your wintertime blues. Whether that means medication, an exercise regimen or a referral to a therapist, the important point is that you have a road map and keep in touch with your doctor to track your progress and adjust your treatment accordingly.
- Exercise and Eat Right
Exercise and diet are proven to be among the most important elements of treating depression any time of year, but especially during the winter. Any kind of exercise that gets the heart pumping is good; even walks can be a great place to start. Check with your doctor if you haven't exercised in the past. Avoid unhealthy foods in excess, including sweets and fatty comfort foods. Stay away from alcohol while you're depressed, pretty much always: Although it will pep you up for a brief period of time, it's ultimately a central nervous system depressant and will contribute viscerally to your depression. Eat foods high in vitamin D, including fortified dairy products, eggs and fish. Get the complete recommended daily intake of nutrients. And eat from all five food groups: grains, meats, dairy, fruits and vegetables.
- Get a Good Night's Sleep
Sleep cycles are critical to people who are susceptible to wintertime depression. Circadian rhythms are easily interrupted for these people, and the shift from longer days during the summer to short days during the winter will do the trick, resulting in insomnia and other long-lasting sleep problems. To compensate, stick to a strict sleep schedule every day, weekday or weekend. Don't stay up or rise too late or you'll get out of synch with light cycles. Avoid caffeine after 2 p.m. and don't drink alcohol to fall asleep. Use your bed for only two things: sleep and sex.
Winter is bad enough - the cold, the snow, the long nights. The last thing you need is a case of depression. Following these simple steps - get enough light, coordinate with your doctor, eat right and exercise, get good sleep - will help you keep winter depression at bay.
About the Author: Valerie Johnston is a health and fitness writer located in East Texas. With ambitions of one day running a marathon, writing for Healthline.com ensures she keeps up-to-date on all of the latest health and fitness news.