For many people, winter can be a difficult time with days overcome by a lack of motivation, negative thinking, and increased irritability. These may be symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which is defined as a mood disorder in which abnormal moods occur in a regular seasonal pattern, such as depression during the short days of winter. SAD impacts approximately 10 million Americans and it is important to note that while most people are affected during the winter, this disorder can be attached to any season.
There are multiple theories as to what causes SAD in winter months. Primarily it is thought that increased darkness stimulates production of melatonin which prepares our body for sleep. In addition, less vitamin D is produced which impacts our body’s ability to build and maintain healthy bones, brain cell activity and more.
When exploring options for preventing the difficult symptoms that come with winter months, there are 3 areas of focus: environmental, psychological, and behavioral.
Environmental coping strategies include:
· Set your bedroom lights to turn on a half hour before you typically wake up to mimic sunrise
· Expose yourself to sunlight as early in the morning as possible
· Use an artificial light. These are also referred to as SAD lights, are relatively inexpensive, and accessible through sites like Amazon. Recommendations include utilizing a light that is full spectrum 10,000 lux and sitting within close range in the morning for approximately 20-40 minutes (varies based on level of symptoms).
· Declutter home to make it an enjoyable place to be
· Include plants and fresh flowers in your home
Behavioral coping strategies include:
· Increase water intake
· Eat fresh foods
· Take a daily multivitamin containing D-3
· Try something new to fight the monotony of winter days (new recipe, game time, date night, winter bonfire, etc.)
· Hot baths/sauna
Psychological coping strategies include:
· Set and focus on a goal
· Acceptance and positive mindset (pledge to make the best of the situation)
· Work to not entertain thoughts that are unhelpful and negative
If it is difficult to get through the day, even with attempting coping strategies, it is critical that you reach out and talk with someone. That someone can be a trusted friend, faith leader, healthcare provider, counselor or therapist. It may be determined that medication combined with other approaches like those mentioned above might be the best course of action. Isolating and withdrawing often feel like the easiest things to do when faced with difficult moods and emotions, however it usually serves to make symptoms worse.
Resources available in Minnesota include Ag Mental Health Counselors: Ted Mathews (320-266-2390) and Monica McConkey (218-280-7785), the MN Farm and Rural Helpline (833-600-2670), and the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
Winter months do not have to be dreaded. Through a combination of changes to your environment, behavior, and the way you think it can be an enjoyable time of the year!