Depression is much more common in the winter months. Suicides occur more frequently and divorce rates are higher than in any other season of the year. Many reasons exist for this uptick in depression, from shorter, colder days to the stress of multiple holiday expectations. While many people experience the “wintertime blues”, others suffer a more significant condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). While SAD typically requires prescription medication to be successfully treated, other milder forms of depression often respond to the following strategies:
1) Get adequate rest by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Because most people will wake up in the dark during the winter months, the use of a therapeutic light box, which simulates sunlight, can be especially helpful at preventing as well as treating mild depression.
2) Aim for a total of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week, such as walking, shoveling snow or heavier housework. This stimulates the body’s own natural mood elevators, known as endorphins.
3) Avoid a diet rich in carbohydrates. Starchy, sweet foods quickly raise and then abruptly drop one’s blood sugar, leading to fatigue and frequently a depressed mood.
4) Limit or avoid alcohol. In addition to being a pure carbohydrate triggering erratic blood sugars as discussed above, alcohol is a drug classified as a depressant. It also significantly decreases the quality of sleep.
5) Supplements such as St. John’s Wort, Sam-E and Vitamin D may be helpful when the above measures are not enough. Consult your physician before starting any supplement, or if your depression is bad enough to require prescription medication.
Although not exhaustive, these guidelines, if followed closely, can help the vast majority of people feel better during the coldest and darkest season of the year.