Winter blues, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, has been the subject of controversy since 1984, when it was first discussed by researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). According to NIMH,
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is not considered as a separate disorder. It is a type of depression displaying a recurring seasonal pattern. To be diagnosed with SAD, people must meet full criteria for major depression coinciding with specific seasons (appearing in the winter or summer months) for at least 2 years. Seasonal depressions must be much more frequent than any non-seasonal depressions.
Symptoms of the Winter Pattern of SAD include:
- Having low energy
- Weight gain
- Craving for carbohydrates
- Social withdrawal (feel like “hibernating”)
Skeptical scientists have come to accept that the winter blues are real, at least to the person who thinks she has it. But you didn’t start reading this to be told what you already know if you suffer from SAD. Let’s get into some ways to beat the blues back.
In the 1860s, Henry David Thoreau acclaimed the benefits of what I consider the best prescription for beating depression and the winter blues: a walk in nature. An article in The Atlantic says,
Thoreau extolled (and extolled and extolled—the piece was more than 12,000 words long) the virtues of walking in untamed environments. In the decades since, psychologists have proved him right. Exposure to nature has been shown repeatedly to reduce stress and boost well-being. But scientists haven’t been sure why. Does it have to do with the air? The sunshine? Some sort of evolutionary proclivity toward green-ness?
Researchers at Stanford studied how the effects of walking in nature and in urban areas affected people.
After some preliminary tests, half the participants walked for 90 minutes through a grassland dotted with oak trees and shrubs (“views include neighboring, scenic hills, and distant views of the San Francisco Bay”). The other half took a jaunt along El Camino Real, a four-lane, traffic-logged street in Palo Alto. The nature walkers showed decreases in rumination and in activity in their subgenual prefrontal cortices. The urban walkers showed no such improvements.
I know. I know. You’re saying, “Harry, it is really cold where I live. I’m not going out into a park in the dead of winter.” OK. We have some ideas for you, as well.
Exercise – If the weather keeps you inside, then exercise there. Go to a gym, walk in a mall, take a yoga class, or a dance class. Get at least 20 minutes of exercise and that will release mood-elevating hormones into your system. Here are some mood-boosting workouts.
Eat Right – OK, I love pasta as much as any Italian, but you need to steer clear of the carbs if you are susceptible to the winter doldrums. Sure, you’ll feel better for a short while after carbing up, but it’s the blood sugar crash afterwards that takes your mood down a notch. Good news: chocolate contains psychoactives that provide a mood-boost. Also, reach for fruit, proteins and foods containing good fats.
Pump Up The Jam – Yep, music is a great blues fighter. According to a study done at the University of Missouri, upbeat music makes you happier.
“Our work provides support for what many people already do – listen to music to improve their moods,” said lead author Yuna Ferguson, who performed the study while she was an MU doctoral student in psychological science. “Although pursuing personal happiness may be thought of as a self-centered venture, research suggests that happiness relates to a higher probability of socially beneficial behavior, better physical health, higher income and greater relationship satisfaction.” Oh, by the way, we have a happiness playlist we put together just for you.
Get Your Hobby On – Keeping busy helps improve your mood, whether you are taking classes, cooking, reading, writing, painting, redecorating or playing an instrument. Here are some additional hobby ideas.
So, stimulate your brain and beat those winter blues.