The winter solstice and the holidays are behind us, but we still have a few months of short days and cold weather before the first blush of spring. In this time of low gray skies, bare trees and blistering wind, many people suffer from “seasonal affective disorder,” or the winter blues, which is characterized by feeling depressed and a lack of energy.
The exact cause of the winter blues isn’t known for certain, but one major factor is that the low level of natural light creates a drop in serotonin, the body’s feel-good chemical. The short days may also affect melatonin and disrupt our sleep cycles. Without a solid night’s sleep, we’re left dragging through the day.
One final factor is that because it’s cold and it gets dark early, we may not get out in the world and connect with other people as frequently. This social isolation can exacerbate the winter blues, particularly in seniors who may live alone. Humans are social creatures, and numerous studies have demonstrated the connection between social engagement and good health.
The winter blues is certainly nothing to sneeze at, so here are a few strategies to help fight this seasonal malady and keep your spirits up:
Change your environment. A lack of light is the primary source of low energy in the winter, so open your shades wide during the day. Move furniture inside and trim your tree branches outside so that you get a full beam of sunshine from your window. Consider moving a reading chair next to the window so you can spend time basking in the warmth of the sunlight.
Get moving. Exercise is the fountain of youth, but it’s particularly important in the winter, when our impulse may be to stay on the couch most of the day, eat a little more than usual, and hibernate. Keeping the blood flowing will keep the endorphins pumping, and may compensate for the drop in serotonin. Also, try to get outside for a walk or jog so you can add a little daylight to your workout routine.
Be social. Meet a friend for coffee or happy hour, host a dinner party, take in a movie. We’re all in the same lifeboat here, feeling low from the winter blues, so many of your friends and family members will likely appreciate an invitation to get out and do something. A trip to an art museum or a concert hall provide excellent stimulation. Likewise, the mind-body connection in a yoga class will keep your spirits elevated.
Ask for help. If exercise, sunbeams, and happy hours aren’t enough, call a friend or loved one to let them know what’s going on, and consider making an appointment with your primary care physician or a mental health professional. Left unchecked, the winter blues can really impact your health, so a professional may suggest phototherapy or another treatment to get you through the winter. If you’re feeling low this winter, help is out there. Take care of yourself.