16% of the U.S. population experiences the “winter blues,” which are often worst in northern climates from November to March when people have less access to sunlight, the outdoors, and their communities. Another 4% develops Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a form of clinical depression that often requires formal treatment.
If you have the winter blues, you may feel “blah,” sad, tired, anxious, or be in a worse mood than usual. You may struggle with overeating, loss of libido, work, or sleep issues. The holidays can also play a factor, with more stress and less time to rest.
The Golden Lunch Hour
Researchhas shown that walking on your lunch break just 3 times per week can reduce tension, relax you, and improve your enthusiasm. If you are a working from 9 to 5, the only window you have to access natural sunlight may be your lunch hour.
Research suggests that a full-spectrum light box or lamp, which mimics sunlight, can significantly improve the symptoms of the winter blues and has a similar effect to an antidepressant. Bright light at a certain time every day activates a part of the brain that can help restore normal circadian rhythms. While light treatment may not be beneficial for everyone (such as people who have Bipolar Disorder), it may be a beneficial tool for some.
The Winter Trip
It may be helpful to plan a getaway for January or February. Plan to take it very easy, as one research study found that passive vacation activities, including relaxing, “savoring,” and sleeping had greater effects on health and well-being than other activities. Engaging in passive activities on vacation also makes it more likely that your health and well-being will remain improved for a longer duration after you go back to work.
Sometimes people mistake the natural slowness of winter as a problem within themselves. By making an concerted effort to savor the slowness, rest, and retreat that complement winter, you can see your reduction in activity as a natural and needed phase. Research suggests that naps help you release stress. Other research suggests that when your brain has time to rest, be idle, and daydream, you are better able to engage in “active, internally focused psychosocial mental processing,” which is important for socioemotional health.
Make a “cozy basket” filled with your favorite DVDs, bubble bath or Epsom salts, lemon balm tea (which is great for “blues,”) or chamomile tea (which is calming and comforting), citrus oils (which are good for boosting mood), a blanket, or a favorite book or two. Choose a comfortable outfit to go with it. If you start to feel the blues, treat yourself.