Ahh… the never-ending cycle of the seasons; spring and summer’s growth and sun are inevitably replaced by fall and winters dismal gray and cold.
Ok, it may not be that black and white for everyone around the world but here in beautiful Western Washington, the winters can be brutally depressing with months of gray skies, constant drizzle and only 8 hours of daylight at the winter solstice. Living here almost requires a winter home in a sunnier location, but the winters anywhere can get you down.
The phenomena of become depressed during the winter months is not unusual and is referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD (who ever came up with this name and acronym should be slapped). SAD is a real problem that can have some dire consequences on work and relationships.
Personally, I had never had problems with Winter Depression until the last couple of years and I have lived in the Pacific Northwest for almost 10 years now. For me, becoming affected by the season didn’t have to do with not being able to take the winters anymore, rather I attribute it to a change in my own personal activities and outlook.
I used to look forward to the cool season just as much as the summers because for many years I was an avid snowboarder. I went up in the mountains at least every other week and I even went so far as to adjust my work schedule so I had a day during the workweek to go up so I did not have to deal with the weekend crowds. But that abruptly stopped in late 2007 when my job changed due to the economy and I no longer had the free time or available funds to go up snowboarding multiple times a month.
That is where it all changed for me; I stopped being excited about the constant rain that meant new snow in the mountains, I stopped being excited about the colder temperatures which meant lighter powder, and most importantly my sun exposure and activity levels during the winter plummeted.
That chain of events really hit me hard and caused me to start to detest the winters here, but for no good reason. The weather is exactly the same as it was before I stopped snowboarding so I need to change, not the weather.
I realized that I needed to make some changes last year to keep the blues at a distance and that they need to be directly related to how I personally viewed the season, and more importantly, my actions during the winter. Below are the things that helped me the most to beat back the seasonal depression.
1. Get Outside as Much as Possible, and Move! – The most important change I have made (thanks to my wife) is that even if it is nasty outside, which during the winters up here, it is 90% of the time, I go out in it anyway and do some kind of physical activity. Walking is an easy choice for this but any kind of physical activity will do.
Just make sure you have the right gear for the conditions as it makes all the difference in your success and desire to do it again. If the weather is just too nasty then resort to working out at home or going to the gym but keeping yourself active during the winter months does wonders for your stress levels let alone your mood, considering physical activity has been shown to fight depression better than any of the anti-depressant drugs on the market today.
2. Sun on Your Face, Ahhh… So Nice! – Though the disappearance of the sun during the winter may be predominantly a northwestern problem, it is true that the intensity of the sun decreases for everyone during the winter. Couple that with the shorter time periods spent outside due to the cold and getting enough sun exposure becomes a problem.
If you have a sunny day take advantage of it. Spend your lunch outdoors and that little bit of sun can go a long way in improving your mood. Studies have shown that the use of a specially designed “lightbox/sun simulator” can help some to reduce the severity of Seasonal Affective Disorder so actually getting out in the sun would only improve your mood.
3. That Looks Different From Over Here. – Take a moment each day to change your perception of the winter months. It is just as important to not think negatively as it is to think positively so if you catch yourself grumbling about constantly feeling cold and damp, stop and correct your thinking to, “at least I am not soaked and freezing”, then redirect your thoughts to things you like about the season. The holidays, the ability to cozy up to a fireplace, the sound snow makes underfoot, a cup of hot chocolate after coming in from the cold or even the fact that you no longer have to mow your lawn. Find something you love about the season that you can’t do any other time of the year and feel fortunate that you get to experience it.
Whether you or someone you know is affected by the winter months, getting everyone involved in these changes can only help to make everyone’s winter days a little brighter, even if it is just in your outlook.