Although January is often hyped as a time of hope and new beginnings, it may also be associated with sadness and depression. From freezing temperatures and lack of sunshine to shorter days, many folks fall victim to the winter blues or a condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). If you are particularly down during this time, you’re not alone. Up to 20 percent of people experience some degree of SAD each winter.
Lucky for you, there are plenty of things you can do to combat these feelings. Here are a few:
- Unplug and recharge. Our society’s addiction to technology—particularly cell phones—is somewhat alarming. It’s time to put down the phones and engage in face-to-face conversation. When you take the time to look people in the eye, make friends and practice empathy, you experience genuine connectedness. If you’re too reliant on your device, start by setting aside specific times when you put it away. You’ll be amazed at the peace you feel when you focus on real life and not on social media.
- Give back. Along with connectedness, research shows that kindness is linked with happiness and good health. If the cold weather is getting your down, focus your attention on helping someone in need. Volunteer for an organization you’re passionate about, visit an elderly neighbor or help out in your child’s classroom. Not only will you positively impact the lives of others, but you will also improve your mood and outlook on life.
- Get some fresh air. A lack of vitamin D could contribute to your winter depression. That’s because your body produces vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sunlight, and without adequate sunlight, your vitamin D levels could be low. Depending on what part of the country you live in, consider taking vitamin supplements and spending more time outside—despite the colder temperatures. Studies show that even a small amount of exposure to natural light each day can do wonders. If you struggle to get outside, consider purchasing a SAD lamp for your home or office.
- Sweat more. Natural light is not the only reason to spend more time outdoors. Your body needs exercise this time of year. In addition to the numerous health benefits it provides, exercise floods your body with mood-enhancing endorphins to help combat the winter blues. Too cold or icy to be outside? Hit the gym!
- Change your diet. While the holidays may be over, it’s still a challenge to embrace healthy eating habits during the long winter months. Sugar and comfort foods may sound delicious, but they won’t make you feel good in the long run. Instead, load up on foods rich in vitamins and complex carbohydrates for more energy and to sustain you between meals.
Although it is quite common, seasonal affective disorder has varying degrees of severity. As with all forms of depression, if your symptoms worsen, you experience feelings of despair or are suicidal, please tell someone and seek professional help immediately.
David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.