Imagine snowfall in New York on June 6th, a frigid 46-degree Fourth of July in Savannah, Georgia, and crop-crippling frosts in August. No, this isn’t a scene from the latest post-apocalyptic blockbuster, it’s the year 1816, after a massive volcanic eruption in Indonesia triggered what is now known as the “Year Without a Summer.”
Volcanic ash from the eruption settled in the stratosphere and caused catastrophic climate change across the globe by blocking vital sunlight from reaching earth’s surface. Consistently cold, cloudy and rainy weather conditions brought about devastating famine and food riots, and certainly a fair share of the winter blues. In fact, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, written that year, is thought to be inspired by those dismal days.
Thankfully, forecasters aren’t predicting another perpetual winter anytime soon, but millions of Americans will still struggle over the next few months with symptoms of seasonal depression. How can you battle the winter blues?
1. Fight the Winter Blues with Light
Researchers believe the depressive symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and its milder form, the “winter blues,” are linked to decreased daylight exposure during the winter months when the sun rises later and sets earlier. Healthy functioning of our mood and sleep cycles depend on daylight, but when cold temperatures and darkness keep us indoors, we often don’t meet the 2 hour daily exposure ideal.
Bright light is a powerful weapon in the battle against the winter blues. Even just 15-20 minutes spent outdoors on a cloudy day is more effective than no natural exposure at all. If you aren’t able to get outside, try opening your blinds and sitting by a window. Amp up indoor lighting by switching out soft white bulbs with cool white or daylight options.
Light therapy is also an effective treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). While light therapy lamps can be purchased online, and sessions can be self-administered, we highly recommend seeking guidance from a trained professional to avoid potential side effects of misuse.
2. Sweat out SAD Symptoms
Usually the last thing you want to do when it’s dark and cold outside is workout, but exercising is another great defense against the winter blues as it helps boost feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin. We often set strict standards for exercise, but remember that anything to get your blood flowing is better than nothing.
Walk the dog around the block. Jump rope to your favorite song. Attend gym group classes or take advantage of free at-home workout videos you can find online. Check out local listings or Meetup.com for fitness opportunities. Join your nearest mall-walkers club… Northgate Mall in Raleigh rewards mileage! Take the family to play laser tag or to an indoor trampoline park and max out any snow days by playing outside (and getting that much needed daylight exposure).
3. Cope with the Cold by Getting Cozy
In many cultures, the winter season is anticipated and welcomed. Scandinavia, for example, experiences extreme winter weather, but consistently reports some of the highest happiness and satisfaction scores in the world. Their winter well-being may be due to their cultural concept of hygge, a Danish word that roughly translates to “coziness” in English. The Danes go to great lengths to capture this coziness, or hygge; in fact, they burn more candles than any other country.
On the dreariest of days, adopt an appreciative attitude for what nature has declared hibernation season. Accept that free pass to slow down and relax, without judgement. Seize opportunities to get cozy. Light candles or start a fire. Sip on soup or your favorite tea. Curl up with a book or take a bath. Invite your friends or partner to a movie marathon or Netflix binge.
In quiet moments, try practicing mindfulness. Breathe in deeply from your diaphragm for four counts and then breath out for four counts. Be present in the moment and with those around you. There’s no better time to snuggle up with your kids or cuddle with your companion when the weather outside is frightful.
Finally, remember that no matter the severity of your symptoms, you can always seek help from a licensed therapist. Recent studies suggest that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), offered by our therapists at Orenstein Solutions, may be the most effective and long-lasting treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder and the winter blues. Learn more about Depression Treatment.