We hope you enjoyed the 2 day reprieve from the winter chill here in the Pittsburgh area, but alas…WINTER IS BACK! For some, however, extreme temperature and seasonal changes can be a nightmare. A nightmare where all you want to do is close yourself off from the world, and hibernate until Spring breaks.
But as life goes, few of us have the luxury to opt out of our active lives for the darkest months of the year. The good news is there are things you can do on your own to fight seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the mood-altering effects of limited sunlight in winter. Most of them are easy and low-cost as well.
(It is important for us to note that we’re not medical professionals here at Deacon Hoover Real Estate, and the information provided has been found through personal trial, error, and research. If you or a loved one feel you need to speak with a medical professional due to the severity of your particular condition, please contact your physican or the national suicide/crisis prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.)
1. Decide if you have mild winter blues or full-blown SAD.
The first thing to do if you feel the winter weather is affecting your mood is to be honest with yourself and determine just how bad a problem you have. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 4 to 6 percent of the population may have true SAD or winter depression. If that describes you, you may need more than a do-it-yourself solution. Counseling, professional light therapy, and even antidepressants might give you serious relief, so if you have a deep case of winter sadness, please consider seeking professional help.
Another 10 to 20 percent of the population may have a milder form of SAD. Statistically, women are more susceptible than men, as are people who live far from the equator (because winter days get shorter as you move toward the North and South poles).
2. Get as much indoor daylight as you can.
Position your workspace near a window. Get a room with a skylight. Insulate your porch so you can spend time there in the winter. One way or another, make sure to let as much sunlight fall on you throughout the day as you can. We need the sun as much as the Earth does, and the difference is noticable.
3. Get outside as much as you can.
Whether it’s cloudy, rainy, or gloriously sunny, the light you get by going outdoors is dramatically more intense than light coming through a window, and window light intensity drops dramatically for every foot you move away from that window. Take advantage of this dynamic by getting outside, at least for a little while, every day, or as often as possible. The ideal time to do it is around noon, when sunlight is at its brightest.
4. Get regular exercise.
Exercise is a proven depression fighter and mood booster, and it has been shown to help alleviate SAD. To get the best benefit, do your exercise outside during daylight hours and get extra sunlight as well. Take a walk at lunchtime, for example.
5. Use a light box or dawn simulator.
A light box is specially designed with fluorescent lights to supplement your need for light. You will usually sit in front of the light box, (or wear a special light visor) for at least 30 minutes a day during low light times of year. A light box should emit about 10,000 lux to be effective. You should use the light box within the first hour after you wake up, sitting about 16 to 24 inches away, with your eyes open but not looking directly at the light box. Avoid using the light box late in the day, or it may interfere with your sleep.
A dawn simulator is a second alternative. Dawn simulators mimic the effect of dawn brightening to full sunrise over a course of 30 minutes to two hours. They’re usually used right before awakening, gradually brightening your room until you wake up (with or without an alarm) at full sunrise. Dawn simulators usually emit much less intense light than light boxes, and since most of the treatment takes place while you’re sleeping, they are often a more convenient choice and easier to stick with. Studies comparing light boxes and dawn simulators have shown varied results in which sometimes the dawn simulator appears more effective, and sometimes the light box. So use whichever you prefer, or try them both to see which works better for you.
Ultraviolet lights and “full spectrum” lights are not replacements for a light box or dawn simulator, so don’t use those. In particular, don’t use a tanning bed, which, besides having no effect on your SAD, can be harmful to your eyes and skin.
6. Take vitamin D.
Many doctors have begun urging patients to up their vitamin D intake. This is especially useful during winter months, since low levels of D were shown to be connected to SAD in at least one study. So start taking D or up your D intake during the winter months.
7. Have a sunny getaway.
If you can swing it, arrange to go away for a few days or even a weekend to someplace where there’s a lot of sun. Getting even a brief vacation is likely to lift your mood in itself, and getting some extra sunlight, even for a couple of days, will do a lot to take the edge off your winter blues. That effect will last for a while after your vacation, and maybe even long enough to get you to spring.
(Again, if you are experiencing symptoms related to or think you have seasonal depression, please contact your physician or support hotline. We can not stress that enough. WE ARE NOT MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS! With the weather fluctuating between pleasantly mild and bitterly cold days, we felt this could be used as a guide to help others who may be struggling this time of year.)