How to Beat The Winter Blues
Every February 2nd, since 1887, a groundhog from Pennsylvania is pulled out of the ground to predict the weather. This year, a magnificent marmot recently forecasted 6 more weeks of winter. For those of us not planning a tropical vacation in the next 6 weeks, the lack of light combined with colder temperatures can perpetuate feelings of depression and lethargy.
One in Five Americans are Affected by Seasonal Patterns
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a major depressive disorder caused by seasonal patterns. A less severe form of seasonal mood disorder, known as the ‘Winter Blues’ cause symptoms which include reduced energy, difficulty sleeping, trouble getting out of bed in the morning, and an increased urge to eat — especially sweets and starches. Combined, these disorders afflict as many as one in five Americans.
Why is winter so hard to take? Studies are inconclusive, but some researchers suggest that some people have difficulty adjusting their internal clocks to the shorter days of winter. Specifically, the problem may be in the body’s increased ability to produce melatonin — the hormone that makes us feel sleepy. Or, the trouble could be in the decreased production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, sleep, appetite, and contributes to feelings of overall well-being.
5 things you can do to combat the effects of seasonal change:
1. Massage & Mood
“As we approach the colder, darker months, massage therapy may be an effective method of deflecting common seasonal challenges,” said Jeff Smoot, 2015 President of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). “Massage benefits the way our bodies react to negative influences, whether that’s weather, anxieties or disorders.”
There is a growing body of research documenting the impact of massage therapy for relief of depression, anxiety and anger.
A 12-week randomized study found that women with stage 1 and 2 breast cancer benefited from regular massage therapy sessions. Participants reported an immediate reduction in anxiety, depression and anger while long term impact of regular massage therapy increased serotonin levels. These women experienced significant improvements in sleep patterns due to the rebooting of their circadian rhythms, or body clock’s. Better sleep led to greater energy and a brighter outlook on life!
2. Do Yoga
Yoga may contribute to lifting your spirits by affecting the production of serotonin in the body, according to Timothy MD, author of the book Yoga as Medicine. His research suggests that people suffering from depression who practiced yoga increased serotonin levels and became less withdrawn and more sociable. Why does Yoga work to shift depression or help to alter seasonal dips in mood? Another research paper published in the Journal Medical Hypotheses reports that the pineal gland, which converts serotonin to melatonin, helps to regulate the body’s circadian and seasonal rhythms.
Dr McCall claims that yoga’s effects are cumulative yet long lasting: “You change brain architecture by repeating actions again and again, which strengthens the links between brain cells,” he explains. “The best way to forge and strengthen new neural pathways is to practice every day. It can be as little as 5 to 10 minutes, though you’re likely to get greater benefit if you do more. So I’d say start with a small amount and, if you can maintain it, increase slowly over time.”
As for what type of yoga is best to alleviate seasonal mood disorders - Practicing mindful meditation or breathing techniques followed by Restorative Yoga, Somatic Movement or Hatha Yoga at ALIGN360 is a great way to beat the blues!
3. Lighten Up
Go outside or sit by a window to get as much natural daylight as you can. Hit the ski slopes, go for a run, or take a walk. Even in the midst of a dark winter day, a brisk one hour walk in the middle of the day or during brighter days can help elevate mood. A ‘light box’ in your home is a convenient way to provide light therapy. These devices are an inexpensive yet effective way to deliver light that is 10 stronger than your home or office lighting. This bright light may reduce your production of melatonin (sleepiness) and increase of serotonin (well-being). You can benefit from a light box by sitting in front of it for up to two hours per day. Why not jump start or brighten your day with it?
4. Stay Warm
Cold homes and environments can play a significant factor to your health. Being cold can lead to catching a cold or flu, but staying warm can help prevent strokes, heart attacks and depression. Be sure to maintain your body heat by wearing thin layers of clothes made of fleece, cotton or wool while you are inside or out. Consume hot food and drinks regularly and throughout your day to insure that you maintain your vital energy and keep your body warm. Spend time in a sauna or hot tub — alone or with friends!
5. Seek Support
Take solace in the company of close friends and family. Let them know how you feel so they understand how your mood changes during the winter. Allow them to nurture and support you. Join a club or advance a hobby that involves others like a book club, travel group, cooking class, or something you’d enjoy. Stay active in your community and engage in the world around you. Try one or all of these suggestions. There is no ‘one size fits all’ remedy for seasonal mood disorders or SAD. If your symptoms persist, seek the advice of a medical doctor or mental health professional.