Getting through the winter

January 02, 2022
Seasonal Affective Disorder
5 min read

WRITTEN BY

David Doll, psychiatric counselor, behavioral health, Mount Nittany Health


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We’ve made it past the winter solstice, when we experienced the shortest day of the year. Still, there are plenty of chilly days ahead when light is scarce, and many people find themselves losing energy, feeling unmotivated, and experiencing an overall change in mood. For some, these mood changes are so different from the norm that they may signal Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Symptoms associated with winter-onset SAD can affect everything from sleep patterns to appetite changes. Every year as the days become short and dark, people with SAD start to slow down and have a hard time waking up in the morning. Their energy level decreases, and they tend to eat more, especially sweets and starches. Their concentration suffers, and they may withdraw from friends and family.

To help address the symptoms of SAD and fend off the winter blues, here are some ways to lift your spirits when the sun goes down early and there’s a chill in the air: 

Get outside. Even though heading outside might be the last thing you want to do when it’s cold out, making the effort is worth it. An hour-long walk under the winter sun can do wonders for your overall mood.

Seek the light. Spend as much time in natural light as your schedule and the weather permits. One way to get your daily source of light therapy is to keep your environment bright and comfortable. A light therapy lamp can brighten up your office, bedroom, or other area of your home and help improve your mood and boost your energy.

Exercise during the day. As much as you are able, schedule your workouts during the day, outdoors if possible. Exercising during the day helps produce endorphins in the body that trigger positive feelings. It also helps boost energy during the day, helping you wind down at an appropriate time at night.

Maintain a sleep schedule. When it’s dark at 4:30 p.m., your body clock may tell you to start winding down for bed. You might also feel the pull toward extra winter naps. Despite these urges, try to maintain a regular sleep schedule.

Practice mindfulness and meditation. If the lack of sun has got you down, using mindfulness strategies such as meditation or yoga can help you identify your feelings and improve your mood. Working on mindfulness allows you to channel your feelings and look at your thoughts without judgment. Meditation helps center your mind and body, and helps you escape from the triggers leading to anxiety or depression. 

Embrace the slower pace of winter. Don’t feel guilty about not packing your winter days with activity. Winter is a great time for contemplation and reflection in your journal, getting lost in a book, or taking a long winter drive. Consider picking up a new hobby that you can enjoy in the comfort of your home, such as knitting, crafting, woodwork, or learning a new language.

Plan to get away. If you can head to warmer temperatures, that’s a great way to beat the winter blues. Planning a trip gives you something to look forward to – always a definite mood booster.

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