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After the bright lights of the holidays fade away, the darkness of mid-January is almost unbearable for some. For them, the room may seem a little gloomier after the brightly-lit Christmas tree is packed away. Sunny days are warmly welcomed through the window to add some glow to the shorter, darker days of winter.
For the twenty percent of Americans with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the decreased daylight leaves them feeling depressed, weak, moody, withdrawn, fuzzy-headed, and may cause them to eat more and sleep less. A lack of sunlight lessens a body’s mood-regulating serotonin levels and causes a higher production of sleep-inducing melatonin.
The dark days of winter will most likely affect everyone one day or another, but for those who are affected to the extent that it disrupts their work performance, personal life, or social life, doctors suggest seeking professional help. Researchers offer multiple ways that those with SAD can combat the winter blues.
The Great Outdoors
Natural sunlight is the best medicine for SAD. Although the temperatures may be colder, there are those unseasonably warm winter days where a person can soak in some healthy sunshine and Vitamin D. Shoveling snow, hiking on a snowy trail, walking the dog, working in the yard, bird watching, sledding, skiing, and a multitude of other outdoor activities can still be enjoyed in winter.
For those weeks where the sun is blocked by snowy clouds, people can use light therapy boxes to brighten the season. A fluorescent light box of 10,000 lux is as capable for improving mood as antidepressant medicines are for moderate depression. On sunny days, even sitting snuggly indoors in the sunlight that streams through a window will have positive effects.
Exercise circulates the blood and invigorates the brain. Doctors recommend 30 minutes of exercise, at least three times a week in order to improve the mood. Combining the natural sunlight of the outdoors with exercise would be most effective. Joining a gym or an exercise class can help a person stay on a routine and keep attending because they have invested their money.
Cold weather can slow the body down, but doctors caution that those with SAD not let it keep them tucked at home under a warm blanket. Getting together with friends and family will bring uplifting laughter and joy from others.
Hobbies and Projects
Focusing on a passion can give a person with SAD a purpose and goals to work towards over the winter months. A home improvement project, woodworking, or painting can help the person focus on a task. Acts of charity for others can also help the person focus on projects for someone else, alleviating some of their depression.
Healthy Diet, Healthy Mind
Doctors also recommend that people eat healthy to improve their mood. Eating healthier makes not only a healthier body, but a healthier brain. Foods rich in Omega-3s have been proven to lift the mood.
\For those who cannot be “snow birds” and escape to a warm sunny place when the winter darkness settles in, there are other ways to find sunshine in the darkness. The help of a professional will also be an important part of healing from the symptoms of SAD.