Don’t get SAD: How to fight those winter blues

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Created: Friday, November 9, 2018 8:00 amUpdated: Tuesday, November 13, 2018 4:31 pm
Monument Valley
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park on the border of Arizona and Utah./Photo by Terrance Siemon
Let the sun shine in. Sometimes it’s a simple as that. According to the National Institutes of Health, studies indicate that sunlight improves mood and combat seasonal affective disorder. 

Getting bummed when the seasons change is real. Here’s how to deal with it.

By Brandon Mathis

Time change. Short days. Foul weather and gray skies. It’s not exactly the kind of day to get outside, but it is the day you should.

Seasonal affective disorder – commonly known as SAD – is a clinically recognized mental health condition that affects some 16 million Americans every year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Symptoms can include depression, loss of interest, low energy, trouble sleeping and weight gain or loss, to name a few. When days get shorter, plenty of go-get-’em outdoor types feel blue.

’Tis the season

For some it really is seasonal.

“The official DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) seasonal affective disorder is major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern,” says Brian Burke, psychology professor at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. “Some individuals experience depressive episodes only during the winter months, and then spontaneously recover in the spring.”

Sound familiar? Maybe you should be reading this on the patio.

By design

We’re not supposed to live like this.

“We were never designed for the sedentary, indoor, sleep-deprived, socially isolated, fast-food-laden, frenetic pace of modern life,” says Dr. Stephen Ilardi, a psychologist who studies depression and has designed lifestyle-based treatments that include more activity, exercise and yoga. “We evolved to live a very different life than the one that most of us attempt to live.”

Ilardi said our growing obsession with social media isn’t helping.

“We’re not supposed to be on our devices all the time,” he said.  “There is research showing a correlation between social media use and depression.”

Researchers have also discovered links to deficiencies of Vitamin D, of which the sun is an ultimate source. Lack of it adds to feeling down or a diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder.

Whatever the case may be, there are ways to avoid it. Here’s how:

Pencil it in? How about carve it in stone

Jolie Ensign, wellness coordinator for Mercy Regional Medical Center in Southwest Colorado, says it’s important to make a plan for activities and exercise, and stick to it. She says we can set ourselves up for success.

“I think a lot of us think we can do it through willpower or motivation, but it’s truly coming up with a strategy,” Ensign says. “Willpower most often backfires on all of us. I found the best way to plan is to get a journal, and take it a week at a time.”

Ensign also says good habits form when we feel good about what we’re doing.

“We fill our schedule up, and a lot of times we think we’re going to get in those four or five good hard workouts during the week, but if we can at least get two put in place, then people are more apt to be successful,” Ensign says.  “And when they’re feeling successful, then consistency happens and habits start forming versus if we try to go big and then we have failure and totally derail.”

seasonal affective disorder
Photo by Brandon Mathis
Keeping a journal of activities and exercise and planning time in your day for them means you’ll be more likely to follow through with goals, says Jolie Ensign, a wellness coordinator in Southwest Colorado.

Tips to outsmart SAD:

  1. Get in regular exercise. Join a class, make a commitment with a friend or set goals and keep a journal about it.
  2. Walk and talk. If you have to make or take a phone call, take it on the move.
  3. Limit screen time on your smart devices. Smart devices often have settings that allow you to set a timer to a time limit. There are apps that do the same.
  4. Have plans to prepare for and look forward to.
  5. Get outside where you belong.
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