Winter blues, another name for seasonal affective disorder, is a form of depression that has a seasonal pattern which can start in fall and last until spring. As the days get shorter and colder, the lack of sunlight can leave you feeling sad, low energy or you may experience changes in sleep and eating habits (usually wanting to sleep and eat more) and the desire to isolate.
Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to help prevent this disorder, beginning with certain lifestyle changes. There are seven different aspects of well-being, and you can focus on making changes in each during the seven months of fall and winter:
- Physical – Maintaining your level of exercise and a healthy balanced diet are great ways to elevate your mood and energy levels throughout the winter months. It is also important to regulate your sleep patterns; avoid sleeping during the day and avoid overindulging in caffeine and alcohol. Smile! Your smile can lift your mood as well as the mood of others.
- Emotional – Keep a gratitude journal. It’s easy to get sucked into all the parts of the day that aren’t perfect. Instead, make a point to write down what you’re grateful for each day.
- Social – Make an effort to keep socializing. The cold can make us feel like staying home, but going out and maintaining relationships can boost your spirits. Older adults are more vulnerable to isolation since they are less likely to go out in bad weather. Consider shoveling an elderly neighbor’s sidewalk or offering to take them to the grocery store to help them stay social.
- Intellectual – Stop rationalizing staying home! We can all think of reasons why we shouldn’t go out or get something done, but creating and sticking to a schedule can help you avoid isolation and dwelling on things that make you feel down.
- Spiritual – Be mindful of this moment. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of winter, embrace the season and find things you like about it.
- Environmental– Get outside! Even if it’s only for a few minutes, the fresh air and sunshine can help you feel refreshed. Light bulbs that emit a certain wavelength that mimic the vitamin D in sunlight can also be helpful to use periodically.
- Vocational – Focus on the positive and try to manage your stress. Do something that relaxes you, like reading a book, taking a bath or getting a massage.
If you have been experiencing signs of seasonal affective disorder for more than two weeks and lifestyle changes aren’t helping to alleviate the symptoms, it may be time to talk to your doctor or contact a behavioral health specialist. Depression is a serious condition and the longer treatment is delayed, the harder the recovery. Cone Health Behavioral Health Services has an exceptional team of therapists, psychiatrists, physician assistants, nurses and other behavioral healthcare professionals dedicated to treating individuals throughout the community suffering from conditions, such as seasonal affective disorder, and helping them recover.
Barbara “B” Akins is a registered nurse and staff educator at Cone Health Behavioral Health Hospital. Barbara received a Bachelor of Science in nursing from North Carolina A & T University in 1975. She is also certified in the Congregational Nurse Program through The Duke Endowment and the Moses Cone-Wesley Long Community Health Foundation.