This is another re-post from my homemaking blog, A Sensible Wife, which is now on permanent hiatus. This was one of my more popular posts there, and now that the holidays are done and we’re deep in the throes of winter, it seems an appropos time to update it here–although, somewhat ironically, today is the first sunny day we’ve had in weeks. Also one of the coldest, though, so I probably won’t be stepping out to soak up the rays.
Confession: as I write this intro, the weather outside is sunny and 55 degrees, and I’m about as chipper as it gets. When I started this post, though, we were in the midst of some seriously cold and dreary weather, and my seasonal depression was working hard to make a comeback.
Normally, January is my worst month of the year (August is a close second, but for different reasons). There are no more holidays to distract me, and everything is dark and cold, and all I want to do is alternate between sleeping and stuffing my face with comfort food all day long. It’s usually really hard to drag myself out of bed in the morning, and nearly impossible to focus and actually be useful and productive. I think it’s safe to say that I tend to get a bad case of Seasonal Affective Disorder around this time of year.
This year, I’m pulling out all the stops to combat it (of course, the spring-like weather we’ve been having the last couple of days sure don’t hurt). Here is a list of the things that have worked for me over the years, keeping in mind that I’m neither a doctor nor any kind of health expert. There isn’t really anything ground-breaking here, but if this post helps just one person pull themselves through the rest of winter, then it’s worth writing.
Get Some Light
Of course there’s no real substitute for the real thing, so whenever possible, spend some time outside in the sunshine, or spend 30 minutes sitting by a sunny window. For days when that’s not possible, you can use a therapeutic lamp with a 10,000 Lux setting to mimic daylight. The NatureBright SunTouch Plus Light and Ion Therapy Lamp fits the bill, and also releases negative ions, which studies have shown to have an antidepressant effect. If you don’t have the funds to spend on a fancy lamp, a friend of mine has had good results from simply swapping out his light bulbs with full-spectrum and daylight bulbs.
If you’re like me, when you’re in the throes of SAD, you want ALL THE CARBS served up with a big side of fat. But as comforting as that big bowl of mac’ and cheese might be in the moment, it’s not really helping you feel better. A healthy diet of lean proteins, low-glycemic fruits and veggies and a reasonable amount of healthy fats (like olive oil, avocados and nuts) will do a lot more to boost your mood and energy levels — not to mention your overall health.
Take Your Vitamins
Of course it’s important to get all of your vitamins and nutrients year-round, but in the winter it’s especially important to help keep up your energy. Taking extra vitamin D to make up for what you’re not getting from the sun has been shown to be helpful in alleviating seasonal depression. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, particularly EPA and DHA, have also been proven to help achieve emotional balance, according to DrWeil.com. Although you might need to take supplements to get high enough doses of both vitamin D and fish oil, you can also get both by eating tuna — which gives you a great excuse to have tuna melts for lunch (mmm, carbs and melty cheese). I recommend high-grade, purified fish oil if you take supplements; it can be a bit pricy, but at least you won’t have to worry about mercury poisoning. You can check the purity and safety of different fish oil brands at the International Fish Oil Standards Program.
Get Enough Sleep
While some doctors and therapists will tell you that you should force your circadian rhythms into submission by forcing yourself to stick to a rigid sleep/wake cycle, that just has never worked for me. Over the years I’ve found that things go a lot better if I listen to my body when it cries out for sleep. So get to bed early when you can, but go ahead and sleep in once in a while if you need to, or make time for an afternoon nap. If you need help (I have a hard time getting my brain to hush up long enough to let me fall asleep no matter how tired I am), try drinking some Sleepytime tea or taking a supplement like Valerian or melatonin about an hour before bedtime.
Exercise is always helpful in fighting off mild depression. Any chance you have to do it outside on a sunny day, so much the better (although if you’re like me, any kind of workout in freezing cold temperatures gets a big NOPE!). Besides being a great mood lifter by getting all those endorphins kicking around, regular exercise has also been shown to improve focus and aid in sleep (as long as it’s not done too late in the day) — both of which tend to be problems related to SAD.
Of course, this is always the hardest part for me (well, that and the eating healthy part). As much as I KNOW exercise will help me feel better, some days it just feels impossible to put down the cocoa, get myself off of the couch and out from under my big pile of afghans and pets and make myself move. But on the days when I manage to do that, I’m always glad I did, because it really does help me feel better.
Do you struggle with seasonal depression, or just plain old winter blahs? How do you deal? Share your SAD-busting secrets in the comments!