Winter depression is the most common type of seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that follows the seasons. According to American Family Physician, winter depression affects roughly 4% to 6% of the population, but another 10% to 20% may have mild seasonal affective disorder.
Six Tips to Reduce Your Risk for Developing Winter Depression
- Watch what you eat
Avoid sugary snacks and other simple carbohydrates, which make you feel good for only an hour or so before leading to a crash in energy. Stay away from fried foods, refined grains, and processed foods. Instead choose instead fruits, vegetables, beans, lean meats, and nuts in healthy portion sizes.
Foods high in vitamin D can also ease winter depression. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) has been linked to vitamin D deficiency due to lack of sunlight, as exposure to ultraviolet rays stimulates the body’s own production of vitamin D. You can take a vitamin D supplement, but salmon, trout, halibut, herring, catfish, sardines, shrimp, soymilk, orange juice and milk also contain this nutrient.
- Get up and move
Physical activity stimulates the brain’s production of feel-good endorphins that improve mood. Exercise also reduces stress, which can often worsen feelings of winter depression. Even one hour of aerobic exercise, such as a brisk walk, can stimulate endorphin production. Outdoor exercise provides the greatest benefit, but indoor physical activity works too. Physical activity also burns calories and helps you sleep better at night.
- Have some fun
Winter can often be very boring. Brighten the endless, dreary days of winter by scheduling a fun event at least once a week. Take a class, volunteer to help at a church event, or visit an old friend. Try to go out to lunch with your family or dial up a new acquaintance on the phone. Shaking up your routine can help you shake off the doldrums of winter.
- Surround yourself with light and bright colors
Lack of sunlight is a major cause of winter depression. Open the curtains first thing in the morning, even if the skies are dreary. Put brightly colored glass trinkets on windowsills to catch and refract light into the room. Wear cheerfully colored clothing and you will brighten up any room.
- Regulate your sleep patterns
The shorter days and longer nights of winter can wreak havoc on your sleep cycle. Lack of sleep can cause a whole host of problems, including cravings for carbohydrates. Regulating your sleep cycle is one of the best ways to avoid winter depression. Develop a sleep schedule and do your best to stick to it. Always get enough sleep, but avoid sleeping for more than about 8 hours at any one time, though, or you will have trouble sticking to your routine.
- Step outside
Exposure to ultraviolet rays outdoors stimulates your body’s vitamin D production. Start your day out in a cheerful mood by taking an early morning walk – 30 minutes will do. An afternoon walk in the midday sun will reduce any stress accumulated throughout the day and will help you sleep better at night too.
When bad weather keeps you inside, try a light therapy box that effectively mimics outdoor light. These boxes produce a 10,000-lux brightness that stimulates the same healthy mood response as exposure to sunlight.
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