Beating The Winter Blues

Woman resting head against tree

By Dr. Peter Abaci

For many, this time of year can mean feeling the blues more than usual. The holiday season can be a time of great joy, but it can also be a time of feeling lonely, financially stressed, and burned out. A decrease in sun exposure during the dark and dreary winter months can be associated with a mood disorder known as seasonal affective disorder. Seasonal affective disorder is associated with symptoms of depression, low energy, sleepiness, weight gain, and social withdrawal, and seems to be related to disruptions in our biological clocks due to a lack of sunlight.

Certainly, if you or someone you know seems more down right now, it is important to get this evaluated by a doctor or behavioral health professional as soon as possible. The good news is that there is a lot that can be done to ward off the winter time blues beyond medications. (About 50 million Americans are estimated to be on psychiatric medications.) Here are some non-medication options to consider:

  • Phototherapy: Spending about 20 minutes a day with a light box can start to reverse the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder in a matter of days.
  • Exercise: Interestingly, exercise has been found to be a great treatment for symptoms of depression, and in fact, some studies have found it to be just as effective as medications. What kind and how much? Well, no specific type of exercise has been found to be better than any other, so do what you like. Even light to moderate exercise works, but some research suggests that the more intense the workout, the bigger the effect.
  • Meditation/Mindfulness/Prayer: I lump these together as different folks may gravitate toward one style more than the other. Past studies on mindfulness and meditation suggest that they can be as effective as more traditional treatments for treating depression.
  • Acupuncture: While there isn’t a lot out there on acupuncture for depression, studies have reported a significant reduction in depression after 3 months of regular acupuncture treatments.
  • Yoga: Researchers have reported that yoga can improve mood. One study found a 50% reduction in depression with only one session per week for 3 months.
  • Massage Therapy: This might be a healthy time to indulge in a massage, but it is unclear if massage therapy can provide anything more than temporary changes in mood.
  • Music: Find a playlist that can help you smile, dance, or just sing in the shower.
  • Adopt the attitude of gratitude: Expressing gratitude can boost our sense of well-being and emotional outlook.
  • Get outdoors: Find some time that you can get outside in the middle of the day if the weather isn’t too harsh. This can boost your mood, add some energy, and help you regulate your biological clock.

Scientific studies continue to show real life examples of the strength of the mind/body connection, and how we can use this to our advantage to improve how we feel. Here’s wishing you some extra lightness during the dark winter months!