If you’re feeling sad this time of year, you aren’t alone. You may have a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, “a type of depression characterized by its recurrent seasonal pattern, with symptoms lasting about 4 to 5 months per year.” Even if you don’t have SAD, you may have the winter blues, triggered by nights that come sooner, colder weather and dreary days.
“Sunlight is said to increase serotonin, a hormone that allows our brains to feel more focused and in a better mood,” said Susan Stallworth, MA, LPC, an Addison-based therapist. “At night, our brain increases the amount of melatonin released in our body, which is even higher in the winter months, which signals it is time for rest and sleep. Melatonin is aligned with our circadian rhythm…So for winter months, when 6 p.m. feels like 9 p.m., it’s because your melatonin production has increased, and you feel less able to focus and more tired.”
When we feel more tired, our self-esteem can take a hit too. Have you found yourself thinking that you shouldn’t be this tired or you should be in a better mood? It’s all due to the winter blues. “This increase in internal negative talk decreases our moods and the lack of sunlight decreases our serotonin, which in turn, decreases our moods,” Stallworth explained. “Winter feels like so much is being taken away. Sunlight, warmer weather, social interactions, heightened worries and anxiety about getting a serious cold or commuting safely in bad weather conditions. There is so much that comes with just being able to function in the winter that it can feel overwhelming. Add in your body’s natural response to the winter months and you have the perfect combination for pretty much morphing into grumpy Eeyore for the winter.”
To combat this feeling, Stallworth offers a few tips:
- Make your home into a comfortable space is really important and will aid in a sense of accomplishment. So, watch “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” again, and declutter and donate. Reorganize/decorate a space in your house you have been contemplating for quite some time (paint the bathroom, wallpaper the foyer or front hallway with that funky print that catches your eye).
- Buy some plants! Caring for and learning the needs of specific plants while watching them flourish is also very rewarding.
- Host movie nights with your isolation circle (so many new movies are streaming now) that covering the couch and floors with pillows and having a pajama movie premiere screening with bowls of popcorn and candy is just the thing to bring joy and playfulness back into your home as well.
- Dive into a podcast to play from your Alexa or other smart home speaker device. There is a plethora out there, from murder mysteries, to fantasy, to self-help, to educational.
- Join a book club, which is commitment as well as social interaction.
- Maintain your schedule, know your work hours, and when you are not “on the clock,” do not continue working. If you have been sitting at a computer screen, do not switch from working to perusing online.
- Be spontaneous! If it was 40 and rainy yesterday, but it is 50 and sunny today, great! Rearrange your schedule to get your run or walk or bicycling in. It is important to have flexibility in the winter months, a rigid schedule is just not serving here.
- Be mindful of what you are eating. Foods high in tryptophan and other amino acids are always a good choice, so go for those when looking for something to eat in your fridge or pantry. And remember, keep with food choices that promote healthy gut bacteria as well.
- Be mindful of what and how often you’re drinking. Alcohol is a depressant, so decreasing alcohol intake is a good choice for mind and body as well.
- And, if staying inside is the only option, invest in a light therapy lamp.
If you are feeling depressed, or believe you have SAD, talk with a mental health therapist or your doctor to discuss treatment options. And, if you or anyone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.