Those who revel in the winter season delight in visions of family-filled holidays, ice skating and snowball fights as soon as the weather starts to turn cold. But for those who suffer from the winter blues, the winter season brings with it a promise of long, dark weeks, dreary skies and weather that keeps you indoors.
Simply existing in a season with so many dark, cloudy days -- this is particularly true in certain U.S. regions like the Midwest, the Northwest and the Northeast -- is enough to bring down a person's mood from a purely emotional perspective, but there are very real, physical reasons why an estimated 25 million Americans suffer from the winter blues each year.
If, during the winter season only, you are:
* Bored and restless
* Irritable or tense
* Craving sweets and eating more than normal
* Feeling cooped up
* Sad or down
* Fatigued or feeling "stir-crazy"
* Sleeping more than normal
* Losing interest in sex
* Having trouble concentrating
It's likely that you're suffering from a case of the winter blues. The winter blues should not be confused with the more serious condition known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, that affects some 10 million Americans. People with SAD feel depressed and fatigued to the point that their relationships and work life are beginning to suffer. The winter blues are a "step down" from SAD, and while they may cause you to feel moody, tired and cranky, it is not to the same extent as the effects of SAD.
The good news is that there are ways to turn your winter blues around in no time at all.
Get Some Sun (or Use a Light Box with Full-Spectrum Light)
The fact that the winter blues occur when the days begin to darken and sunlight is scarce is not a coincidence. Sunlight is crucial to human health, and when we don't get enough exposure to it our moods and physical health will suffer. More specifically, your serotonin levels (the hormone associated with elevating your mood) rise when you're exposed to bright light. You may have experienced this "high" feeling after spending some time on a sunny beach, for example.
Similarly, the sleep hormone melatonin also rises and falls (inversely) with light and darkness. When it's dark, your melatonin levels increase, which is why you may feel naturally tired when it begins to get dark outside (even when, in the heart of winter, this may be at only 4:00 p.m.).
It is because sunlight affects the melatonin-serotonin system that it works so well to alleviate the symptoms of the winter blues and elevates mood. In fact, studies have even found that light therapy or phototherapy, which is the practice of using full-spectrum light therapeutically, works to relieve the symptoms of the winter blues and SAD better than antidepressant drugs.
Interestingly, vitamin D, which requires sun exposure to be produced in your body, is also linked to higher levels of serotonin, and it has been suggested that getting plenty of sunlight over the summer helps your body to maintain higher vitamin D levels in the winter, and therefore higher levels of serotonin as well.
Unfortunately, most of us do not get enough sunlight during the summer, due in part to the large amounts of time we now spend indoors and partly to the fact that the public has been scared unnecessarily into avoiding the sun.
So in the wintertime, if you can take a trip to a sunny location and spend some time in the sun, your mood is likely to improve immediately (this means sensible sun exposure -- staying in the sun until you are burned is NOT healthy).
For those of you who cannot get away, though, there is another option that is widely accepted as the best treatment for SAD and the winter blues: Full-spectrum lighting. Natural sunlight is full spectrum, and the full-spectrum light box I recommend replicates the same healthy "ingredients" in natural sunlight. This includes the full spectrum of color (imagine the colors of the rainbow), as well as infrared and the three ultraviolet wavelengths. No other type of lighting source -- not "regular" or even "natural" light bulbs or fluorescent light bulbs -- contains these requirements.
I highly recommend and now offer you BioPure light bulbs, which contain the necessary full spectrum of color as well as infrared and the three ultra violet wavelengths to most closely match natural daylight. One of the most accurate natural full spectrum light bulbs on the market today, BioPure Light Bulbs have a color temperature of 5500 Kelvin degrees and Color Rendition Index (C.R.I.) of 93, making this bulb comparable to mid-day sun, the time of day when the sun has its highest photobiotic activity.
BioPure light bulbs can also help improve:
* Color perception
* Visual clarity
* Mental awareness and productivity
* Scholastic performance
* Plant growth
What's more is that those with the winter blues and SAD report a very marked improvement with the use of full-spectrum light boxes. In as little as two or three days people tend to feel a profound increase in energy and improvement in mood and sense of well being with the Bio Pure BP-12 and Bio-Pure BP-12 Jr. light boxes. And, all it takes is 15 minutes a day.
Exercise Boosts Mood
Exercise is widely known as a natural mood booster, and has also been found to work better than antidepressant drugs to alleviate depressive symptoms. Simply getting out for a brisk walk or heading to the gym for 30-minute workout can do wonders for your mood, and your body will benefit too. Don't feel that you have to stick with a certain routine if you're someone who gets bored easily. Exercise works best when it's something you look forward to, so choose something that fits your personality and fitness level. Dancing, kickboxing, yoga and brisk walking are all great ideas.
Exercise will also help to boost your immune system, which means you're less likely to come down with a cold or flu -- another reason why many people don't look forward to the winter season.
Resist Comfort Food Cravings
As the weather turns colder you may mentally feel like you're getting ready to "hibernate" for the winter, and as such start to crave "comfort" foods. Unfortunately, traditional comfort foods tend to be less than ideal from a nutritional standpoint (you know those cookies and instant mashed potatoes aren't healthy!). Stock your pantry with healthy food choices like meats, raw cheeses and fresh vegetables that will leave you feeling satisfied and well-nourished, rather than on a sugar-high (with the inevitable "sugar crash" soon to come).
If you find your cravings are too strong to resist, consider trying the energy psychology tool, Emotional Freedom Technique to address any underlying emotional challenges that might be blocking your progress.
Follow Your Natural Inclination to Sleep
If you feel tired when the sun sets (this is the natural way our bodies were programmed to feel), listen to your body! It's telling you that it's time to rest. Most of us, however, stay up much later than our bodies would like, sometimes six or more hours later than the sun set, which tends to impair the adrenal glands and the immune system. A sound night's sleep [http://www.mercola.com/article/sleep.htm] can do wonders for you mood and will help you to feel ready to take on a new day in the morning.
Optimize Your Omega-3
There are a number of studies that show that omega-3 fatty acids in fish oils are associated with decreased depression. If this subject interests you, I highly recommend Dr. Stoll's book The Omega-3 Connection. He is a Harvard psychiatrist who has done a great job of compiling the evidence supporting the use of fish oils for depression.
One of the best sources of high-quality fish oil and cod liver oil that I have come across is the Carlson's brand. You can find it in our Web site store or in your local health food store.
Change Your Routine
Sometimes making small changes in your life is an excellent way to pull yourself out of a funk. The following ideas are very simple, but they can make a big difference in your day and your mood:
* Add some new decorations in your home
* Purchase some aromatherapy oils that you enjoy
* Treat yourself to a massage or warm bubble bath
* Prepare a special meal for your family or significant other
* Listen to a favorite music or relaxation CD
* Journal to reflect on your emotions or day's activities
* Pamper yourself with a day of healthy food, good books and other favorite activities
* Call an old friend
* Organize your living space (clearing clutter can be calming for your mind)
Dr. Joseph Mercola