Guest post by Trisha Miller
About half a million Americans are affected by winter depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) each year. Most people who experience seasonal depression feel unusually tired, irritable, and unmotivated. Depression during the winter months is thought to come from a lack of sunlight and not a lack of warmth. Although this disorder appears in both genders, SAD is actually much more common in women than men. However, some say it may have more extreme effects on men overall. Whatever the case, those who are affected my find it difficult to find relief during this time of year. Of course, it is always the best idea to go see your physician if you aren’t quite feeling yourself, but there are some noteworthy and proven ways to fight the winter blues.
Mimic the Light of the Sun
Personal light boxes can be purchased that imitate the sun’s rays. Using these boxes for 30 minutes everyday, usually in the morning, will suppress the body’s natural production of melatonin when a person is in constant darkness. Melatonin is the chemical produced in the body that makes an individual feel sleepy. If kept away from sunlight for an extended period of time, the body will begin to produce this chemical more frequently than usual. Being exposed to sunlight or mimicked sunlight will help to regulate a person’s “inner clock” or circadian rhythms. This rhythm tells the body when it is time to be active and when it is time to recharge and get some rest. If the clock is thrown off balance, the affected person will begin to experience not only an extreme sense of tiredness, but also a need to be reclusive. Many people with SAD do report an overwhelming sense of reclusiveness during the fall and winter season. Light boxes seem to be an excellent replacement for the lack of regular sunlight experienced during this time of year.
When a person is feeling depressed and possibly reclusive, working out or staying active might be the last thing on their mind. However, it has been proven that if the affected person can slowly begin to incorporate some form of activity into their life each day, they will be able to boost their mood. If working out is unappealing or seems like a chore, try something fun. For example, swimming provides an entire body activity and is also easy on the joints and muscles. Water activities can accommodate for a gentler way to keep the heart pumping, which studies show decrease feelings of depression. Repeated activity, no matter what is chosen, will help regulate mood-boosting chemicals in the brain. In other words, the more activity, the better the person will ultimately feel on a regular basis.
Tests have shown that eating a well-balanced diet may hold the key to eliminating some forms of depression. One such study said that Australian women who ate non-processed foods and lots of fresh fruits and veggies had a much lower risk of depression. In the past many have thought that the mind and body are regulated differently, but more research has shown that is not actually the case. Our bodies truly are what we eat. Vitamins in our food, or the lack thereof, can help or hurt our brains and bodies when regulating metabolism and mood altering chemicals. In fact, what we eat actually make up the cells in our body and brain. So, if we aren’t getting quite enough vitamins and minerals in our diets these cells will become damaged over time and may start to function improperly. Thus, equating to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
Certainly, not every situation will be remedied by following the above steps. These ideas are not meant to be used in place of medication or doctor’s advice. Nevertheless, many people do find comfort and relief in switching around a few small components to their everyday life. Not only will these suggestions help reduce depression during the winter months, but will help to maintain a sense of well-being throughout the year.