The first nip in the air and the first snowfall are always exciting. The coming of winter signals the holiday season, with its traditions, parties, presents, movies, songs, hot cocoa, eggnog, soups, comfort foods, sweaters, afghans and cozy nights by the fire.
We celebrate the New Year with fireworks and fanfare resolving to have our best year yet. As the weather turns colder, the snow plows push dirty snow off the roadway to languish by the curb, and the memory of our New Year’s champagne loses its fizz.
How can we counter the winter blahs?
Some people thrive in winter. They embrace the cold by taking daily winter walks or runs, ice skating skiing, snowboarding or even playing in the snow (making snowmen and tossing the occasional snowball). People who spend time outside doing something they love tend to be happier even when the groundhog sees his shadow.
Unfortunately, we don’t all react well to the cold. Some of us may have health issues that keep us inside or inflexible work/school schedules. Whatever the reason, there are many things you can do to brighten even the gravest days of winter.
It’s important to determine if you are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D). Symptoms can be mild or severe and include:
Consistently sleeping past your normal waking time by several hours
Sleepiness during the daylight hours
Low to no motivation to exercise
Withdrawal from social situations
Depressed mood during specific months
Milder symptoms may indicate a case of the Winter Blues instead of S.A.D. If you feel your symptoms are severe, please seek medical help.
Light therapy has proven to be an effective treatment of S.A.D and the Winter Blues.
The farther you live from the equator, the more susceptible you may be to the Winter Blues or S.A.D. Exposure to direct sunlight or using Light therapy which exposes you to a bright light that mimics the sun is a natural way to boost serotonin. Production of serotonin helps calm the brain’s response to stress and boosts overall feelings of happiness. Spending approximately 30 minutes each morning under a bright, full spectrum light that triggers serotonin production can reduce or eliminate symptoms of S.A.D.
Other activities that help the body produce serotonin are:
Exercise - Regular exercise for at least 30 minutes every day increases your serotonin and dopamine levels.
Nutrition – Coffee increases your serotonin and dopamine levels, but too much caffeine can make you jittery. Omega-3 fatty acids boost serotonin levels. Cold-water fish such as salmon contain beneficial amounts of omega-3 fatty acid. Low levels of tryptophan in your diet can cause your serotonin levels to drop; however, the tryptophan in turkey will not raise your brain’s serotonin levels. If you need more tryptophan, you can eat starchy foods like whole wheat bread, potatoes, and corn. Strive for a well balanced diet and include brightly colored fruits and vegetables.
Meditate- relaxed and focused thought with breathing exercises can increase the release of dopamine relieving stress and creating feelings of inner peace.
Show Gratitude - being thankful for the good things in your life can trigger the release of dopamine and serotonin.
Spend Time outdoors – walking in the woods, on the beach or even around your neighborhood can help.
Essential Oils - essential oils such as bergamot, lavender, and lemon may have therapeutic properties. Through your sense of smell, they may prompt your brain to release serotonin and dopamine. However, if you have pets or small children in the home extreme caution should be used to avoid accidental poisoning.
Set realistic goals and work to achieve them – Success is a powerful positive force. Focus on your symptoms and design a workable plan to treat them. You can also take up a new hobby such as crafting, decluttering, doing puzzles, reading, painting or decorating.
Little things you can do to brighten the winter months include:
Wearing bright colors, adding colorful throw pillows and accessories around your home and keeping clutter at bay.
Make time to visit with friends or family – go to a museum, visit an art gallery, have coffee or take a walk.
Volunteer at an animal shelter, Senior Living Center or your local food bank.
Read the latest bestseller or tackle one of the classics.
Binge watch one of your favorite TV shows.
Listen to music.
Plan your dream vacation or learn a foreign language