January can blow in with a feeling of renewal and rebirth, with the start of the new year and the end of the holiday season. But January for many is a cold, grey, and gloomy time of year, bringing with it the onset of “The Winter Blues” symptoms or S.A.D (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
Though there is no official cause of S.A.D, it’s believed to be linked to less sunlight exposure and shorter days. What makes S.A.D different from clinical depression is that it’s brought on by the changing of the seasons, especially by less exposure to the sun and its benefits, something folks who live in northern climates are familiar with. If you are feeling down this time of year, read on to learn some reasons as to why you may be feeling this way, and some solutions you can try at home or with your doctor.
Increase your vitamin D
Lack of vitamin D can be a common culprit for S.A.D symptoms. Vitamin D is an important nutrient that we famously get from sun exposure and food, and low levels of it can cause higher levels of depression and anxiety. Other symptoms may be a lower immune system (increase in illnesses), increase in appetite, fatigue during the day, and trouble getting high quality sleep at night. With the cold, gloomy weather of winter, many people tend to stay indoors, which limits their exposure to vitamin D and potentially heightening their risk for S.A.D.
If you feel your levels are low, talk to your doctor and they can give you a routine test and recommend options for over-the-counter supplements. Don’t forget that we also get vitamin D through food – some common options are fatty fish, fortified milk, egg yolks, and orange juice.
Light boxes are also a home remedy option for S.A.D symptoms. They are designed to give you a therapeutic dose of bright light that helps stimulate the “happy” chemicals in our brain, lift your mood, and ease symptoms of S.A.D. Light therapy can also help with our circadian rhythms and sleep patterns.
Despite the gloomy weather of winter, the sun is still there behind those clouds – bundling up and getting outside, even for a few minutes, is another option to increase your vitamin D. There is no magic number for how long you need to be outside, but try for at least 5-10 minutes, especially if there is a rare sunny winter day and absorb some sunlight.
Do and then feel
“Do and then feel” – a phrase you may have heard from other blogs, but it remains true. Don’t sit and think about taking action, just do it. If you sit and wait to “feel” like doing something, you probably won’t do it. When we just get up and do an action, afterwards we usually feel a sense of relief or accomplishment that the task is done.
And above all, if your symptoms are worsening and nothing seems to help lift your mood, seek help from a mental health professional. You may need professional treatment, such as medications or cognitive therapy, and there is nothing wrong with that. Remember that this time of year is temporary, and eventually the days will begin to get longer with more sunshine. Use the slowness of this time of year to rest, regroup, and plan for the year to come.
This blog article was contributed by Luke Spiegelhoff, Clinical Director Specialist for Nexus Family Healing.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 50 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.