Completely You

Beat Back the Wintertime Blues

Boost your mood all winter long, no matter how short and dark the days are.

Sad is more than just a word describing how you feel. It’s also a word for a real condition known as SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression that comes around this time of year. Shorter days along with less sunlight can turn even the most upbeat person into a gloomy, more introverted one.

What follows? Symptoms similar to those of other forms of depression: hopelessness, increased appetite and sleep, weight gain, diminished energy, inability to concentrate, social withdrawal, unhappiness and irritability.

Short of escaping to a warm-weather paradise -- which might be a temporary fix -- how can you get through the winter months and maintain a sunny disposition?

1. Use light therapy. Not just any light will do. Exposure to a special lamp with a very bright light that mimics natural outdoor light helps energize you and keep your circadian rhythm balanced. It also helps stimulate the same neurotransmitters as antidepressant medicines do. To mimic sunrise each morning, sit a couple of feet away from the light box for about 30 minutes. Keep your eyes open but do not look straight into the light.

2. Get social. You might feel anything but outgoing, but being around other people in social situations is bound to boost your mood. Even if you don’t feel like going out once the sun sets, make commitments and stick to them. More than likely, you’ll return home feeling a whole lot better than when you left.

3. Exercise. Your energy might be waning, but exercise is a surefire way to jumpstart it. The biggest benefit of all might be a boost to your mood, according to a study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, which found that depressed people who exercised regularly recovered almost as well as people who took medication. Better yet, exercise at a gym: It’ll force you to get out of the house and get social.

4. Indulge in a Massage. You may consider it a luxury, but it’s also medicinal: During that heavenly session, your levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) fall, while your levels of serotonin (a mood-regulating hormone) rise. Can’t get a massage right now? Any kind of touch -- whether it's holding someone’s hand, cuddling with your pet or giving and getting hugs -- can be therapeutic as well.

5. Drink coffee. It has many health benefits (protecting against Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes and liver cancer, to name a few), and research has uncovered yet another one: a lower risk of depression. Scientists found that women who drank more than four cups of coffee a day had a 20 percent lower risk of depression than those who drank less. That’s one good way to perk up your mood, don’t you think?

How do you fight the wintertime blues?



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