After what seemed like a fairly manageable winter up until this point (at least in the Northeast), things have taken a turn and temperatures have plummeted, snow has fallen, and we find ourselves in the thick of the cold. For many people, this also means plummeting moods and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Similar to depression, SAD is a mood disorder: A person often has low energy, feels hopeless, might have trouble concentrating, feels depressed, and isolates themselves. The difference between SAD and depression, though, is that with SAD, symptoms usually begin and remit around the same time each year, and in order to be diagnosed, it must occur for two consecutive years. With depression, symptoms persist and are not tied to a season.
In a recent survey conducted by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, with whom I’ve partnered, half of respondents said their moods suffer in the winter and 82 percent say a getaway helps them escape the winter blues. These numbers, although concerning, are consistent with what I see in my practice.
The good news is SAD is highly treatable, and even if it’s just tweaking the way you think about winter and actually booking that weekend getaway, you’re going to feel much better. So often, the way we think affects the way we feel, and that can have a profound impact on mood. For example, do you think, “I hate winter and don’t know how I’ll ever make it through to spring”? Or do you think “Winter sucks and is cold, but I know there’s an end in sight and there are things I can do to help make it easier”? The former is sure to keep you stuck, while the latter might help to ease some of the harshness of the season.
Here are six more tips to help get you through the winter:
Head to the gym and exercise or take the stairs at work. Aerobic exercise in particular stimulates endorphins and can help you to feel better. It’s also a good way to burn stress, and if you’re exercising in a gym or as part of a group it provides social interaction, which helps with the depression and isolation that are common with SAD.
Yes, even though it’s cold, bundle up, get outside, and walk for at least 10 minutes a day. Light enters the brain through the eyes and impacts serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that play a role in mood. So instead of seeing cold as unbearable, focus on the sunshine and the benefits that come with it.
Just as the Enterprise survey revealed, taking a weekend escape to warmer climates can work wonders. I advise all my patients who are prone to SAD to plan such a getaway. It gives you something to look forward to rather than dwelling on the long cold winter, and it provides a healthy dose of sunshine and warmth.
If possible, arrange your office so your desk is closer to the outside and to sunshine. This will provide natural light, which will also help to enhance your mood. If this isn’t possible, consider a light therapy box, which is a device that creates an artificial light mimicking natural light.
As with other mood disorders, surrounding yourself with understanding, supportive, and encouraging people can help lift your spirits. Find people whom you trust and lean on them for support, and plan activities like movies and dinners.
Rather than dreading it and seeing it as a endless season, view it as an opportunity to get involved with new activities. Perhaps activities like skiing, sledding, or ice skating are worth trying with your friends? Embrace those things that are available only for a limited time every year.