Have you ever felt a bit blue during winter? I know I have. In fact, sometimes the thought of my morning cup of coffee is my biggest motivation to get out of bed! And I know I'm not alone. The American Academy of Family Physicians claims that as many as 20% of people experience a mild form of what's referred to as seasonal depression when the days get shorter and colder. Luckily, there are some simple lifestyle tips you can implement to relieve some of the low feelings that come around this time of year. Keep reading to learn more about the Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and my favorite tips to boost your mood.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that is triggered by seasonal changes. Symptoms include fatigue, mood swings, appetite changes, and irritability. SAD is more common in women, children, and people who live farther away from the equator. Why? Because winter means shorter days and the resulting lack of sunlight disrupts our natural circadian rhythms. This disruption can leave us feeling drained and down. Since seasonal changes are more pronounced farther from the equator (i.e. days are even shorter), SAD is more common in these areas.
Three Ways to Boost Your Mood in Winter
Whatever the cause for your winter blues, I hope my suggestions will help turn your mood around sooner than later.
1. Try Light Therapy
If you can’t let the sunshine in, your best bet is to recreate the rays with light therapy. Light therapy boxes are becoming a popular way to stimulate your body's natural circadian rhythms and boost your mood. But these boxes don't just use your average lightbulb. Light therapy boxes give off a brighter light than traditional light bulbs. Plus, the light is delivered in different wavelengths with a minimum intensity of 2,500 lux, which is similar to the light on a typical overcast day.
I suggest starting your day with a lightbox therapy session to mimic the natural cycle of the sun. You can place the box on any flat surface around your working area or even on a nightstand while you relax, but remember to never stare directly into the light as it could cause eye damage.
2. Activate Your Senses with Aromatherapy
Essential oils are truly essential in the winter months. Try putting a few drops of oil into a bath each night and also in a humidifier while you rest. Certain oils are known to activate areas of your brain responsible for mood control, appetite, and sleep. According to a 2011 study published in the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, oils isolated from the Toona Ciliata tree are known to have antidepressant effects.
Alternatively, there are other essential oils that help alleviate symptoms associated with SAD. My favorite is grapefruit oil, which always gives my mood a boost thanks to its energizing and vibrant scent. I have found that using oil with a diffuser is the easiest way to enjoy its benefits during the winter months.
3. Get into the Groove
Anyone that knows me, knows that I'm a true believer of exercise being the best medicine. Besides helping to balance out your hormones and give you a rush of endorphins, it's always great to get moving- especially when you're feeling cooped up. It’s proven that exercise can alleviate seasonal affective disorder symptoms. Outside exercise is the best, but if the weather doesn’t allow, then head to the gym and opt for the cardio you like best - a treadmill, elliptical machine, or stationary bike, or even better make it social and hit up a class. In addition to boosting your mood, keeping fit will help keep negative thoughts at bay.
How do you keep your spirits up in the winter? Let me know your favorite tips in the comments!