The symptoms of S.A.D. of the winter variety include lower energy, sleeping too much (hypersomnia), overeating, gaining weight, craving carbs and alcohol, and social withdrawal. These combine with the symptoms of major depression. If this describes your experience of winter, you may want to consider talking to a therapist or doctor. A quick Google search will show you that treatment for S.A.D. includes medication, light therapy, and/or psychotherapy. But what can you do today to start improving your mood and your overall emotional health this winter? Here are a few practical tips for being proactive this cold season against S.A.D.:
- Plan Ahead by writing up a list of concrete enjoyable activities you can do often that will improve your mood.
- Get Outside as often as possible! I know it is cold, but layer up as much as you can, go for a walk, a hike, or simply sit in the sunlight. Despite those clouds, you will get some of that Vitamin D that is so lacking in winter.
- Exercise! Develop a routine around exercising. Start small, coming up with manageable goals to keep up the fitness during these dreary days.
- Improve your Diet, even simply by adding one nutritional food to your day. Be aware of cravings for heavy carb meals and heavy alcohol consumption.
- Develop a Regular Sleep Routine. Because of the less hours of daylight and less sunlight, our brains often produce more melatonin in the winter, which makes us oversleep and overly sleepy throughout the day. Getting our circadian rhythms of sleep on a schedule can help, along with doing the above-mentioned activities to increase our energy.
- Plan Social Activities ahead of time. Plan to get together with friends and enjoyable company early so that you do not hibernate all winter, as often feels so desirable when fighting S.A.D. Even as an introvert myself, I try to get small groups of friends together for dinner and fun throughout the winter months.
- Try mindfulness! There are many ways to practice mindfulness, such as meditation, yoga, mindful running or mindfully walking through nature. Mindfulness is paying attention to your internal and external world, noticing new things. It retrains the brain to notice and accept difficult thoughts, emotions and physical sensations and could be especially helpful in noticing S.A.D. symptoms creeping up.
In a recent blog by Quaker activist and writer Parker Palmer, he reframes winter as a time for mental clarity, as well as an opportunity to shed any clutter in our lives, material or mental. Nature models this clarity, simplicity and purity in winter’s stark beauty, in its silence, in its shedding of leaves and the clean white snow. I leave you with this simple invitation to also try reframing winter. You can read his blog here: https://onbeing.org/blog/parker-palmer-the-clarity-and-truth-in-winters-scarcity/