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Mental Health: 5 Ways to Get Through the Winter Blues

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Does winter have you feeling blue? If you are like me and an estimated 10 million other Americans, you could be experiencing a case of the winter blues, or perhaps the more moderate form known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. . .how fitting.

The winter blues or SAD typically tends to set in during late fall and early winter. The shorter days and lack of sunlight, along with plunging temperatures, can trigger a drop in serotonin levels leading to depression. These seasonable changes can also throw off the body’s melatonin levels, affecting mood and sleeping habits.


Winter Blues Symptoms

  • Change in appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Low energy
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Lack of motivation

SAD Symptoms

  • Feeling down and depressed daily
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Irritability
  • Change in appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Thoughts of suicide

“The promise of spring’s arrival is enough to get anyone through the bitter winter!”
— Jen Selinsky

Getting Through the Blues

Although the calendar may be telling us spring is here, a glance out the window tells us otherwise. It feels like the closer we get to spring’s fresh greenery and new blooms, the longer winter drags out. Just when the melting starts and we can almost smell the lilacs, boom! Old man winter blasts us again. . .and again, and again.

Will it ever end? While we cannot control the unpredictable forecast, there are some easy tips we can follow to help elevate our mood.

Exercise

Although we may dread exercise almost as much as we dread winter, it works as a natural mood lifter due to the increase in endorphin levels. Exercise will not only boost your mood, but also helps to relieve stress, anxiety, and regulates sleep patterns.

 

Vitamin D

When we think Vitamin D, we likely think about what it’s best known for, which is its role in bone growth. While Vitamin D is essential for bone development, it also contributes to the overall health of the brain and body. Vitamin D also naturally boosts serotonin levels which affects mood, appetite and sleep habits.

“Spring adds new life and new beauty to all that is.”

— Jessica Harrelson

Spend Time Outside

We all need a little fresh air once in a while, even if it does require a little bundling up. Studies have shown that spending time outdoors can improve memory, relieve stress and anxiety, as well as lower blood pressure. Even a short 20-30 minute walk will do wonders to lift your spirits and overall health.

Light Therapy

Since the winter blues or SAD symptoms can be triggered by lack of sunlight, light therapy by exposure to artificial light (not the same as a tanning bed) is a great treatment option with very few side effects. Light therapy sessions should be 20-30 minutes long, taking place daily, with best results early in the morning. You may want to consult your doctor before purchasing a light therapy box.

Eat Chocolate

Yes, you read that right. Eat chocolate! With the proven health benefits chocolate has to offer, it no longer has to be a guilty pleasure. Dark chocolate, particularly that of which contains 70 percent ground cacao, contains phytochemicals with medicinal properties, including serotonin. Aside from its ability to mood boost, chocolate also benefits cognitive function, along with heart and blood vessel health. You just can’t go wrong with chocolate.

Final Thoughts

There are many steps we can take to help us through the winter blues or SAD and elevate our mood. However, if you are experiencing a combination of the symptoms listed above for a prolonged period of time, it is best to seek medical advice from your healthcare provider.

It may not seem like it now, but spring really is just right around the corner, so hang in there! In the meantime, watch for those robins and eat some chocolate. I know I will.

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