There are mixed opinions on Winter for Minnesotans – some love the crisp air and white wonderland effect, while others are just counting the days until the Spring thaw. One thing we can all agree on is that we could use more sunlight. On the shortest day of the year, December 21st, we only have 8 hours and 46 minutes of daylight (Time and Date), so if you work indoors, you will struggle to get any exposure to the sunlight at all!
Time in the sun is important for all living things, and for humans, lack of sunlight during Fall and Winter can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Symptoms of SAD include: less energy, trouble concentrating, fatigue, increased appetite, and desire to be alone (WebMD). If you or someone you care for is showing signs of SAD, there are treatments available to help you feel better! The first step is to see your doctor to discuss your symptoms and treatment options. The Mayo Clinic offers several treatments for SAD that include:
- Light Therapy. This type of therapy has you sit few feet from a special light box within the first few hours of the day to get exposure to bright light. The light box mimics natural outdoor light and has been shown to create a change in brain chemicals linked to mood. Light therapy generally starts working within several days to a few weeks.
- Medication. An antidepressant prescription is a good option for some people who suffer from SAD. The positive effects of antidepressants take a few weeks to kick in.
- Therapy. Psychotherapy is another great option to help relieve SAD symptoms. In these sessions, your therapist will help you to uncover healthy coping mechanisms, and teach you techniques to cope with stress and negative feelings.
While you may not experience such severe mood changes like those that occur with SAD, you may still notice a decrease in energy and a change in your mood during Winter. A great way to counteract this shift in mood and energy is to stay active and get outdoors in the sun as frequently as possible. Regular exercise is shown to improve memory, sleep quality, energy and mood while also relieving stress (Help Guide). Boost these positive effects of exercise in the Winter and take your movement outside! Try taking a brisk morning walk, ice skating with family, or cross-country skiing. Remember, you don’t need to spend hours in the gym to benefit from exercise; in fact, spending just 30-minutes a day for five days each week is all you need for the mood-boosting benefits! You can break up the 30-minutes into different sessions throughout the day too.
Implement these movement guidelines to see if it helps to improve your “winter blues”, but if your symptoms do not improve or even get worse, see your doctor to discuss your symptoms and create a plan to get better.