ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Feeling under the weather in the winter? ‘Tis the season when cold temperatures, dry air, and plentiful snowfall cause accidents, injuries, and illnesses. Besides those health issues, winter weather brings the blues.
The long nights, late sunrises, early sunsets, constant cloud coverage, and weak sunlight that plague the Capital Region severely affect mental health. Seasonal affective disorder, or “SAD,” describes the symptoms of major depressive disorder caused by a lack of sunlight.
Experts characterize SAD patients as having extreme lethargy and mood swings that go beyond a wish for warmer weather.
The textbook SAD patient feels low, uninterested, withdrawn, and vegetative, said psychologist Mark Balaban. They experience weight gain, carb cravings, loss of libido, inability to think clearly, anxiety, irritability, and impatience. The immune system often slows, and some sufferers report feeling suicidal during this time of year.
Each of these symptoms can be addressed from different angles:
- Bring natural light inside by drawing the curtains and opening the blinds.
- Get some fresh air by taking a walk in the sunshine.
- Eat clean to combat brain fog.
- Release positive chemicals in the brain through regular daily exercise.
- Try light therapy on dark days.
- Keep an active social calendar active and spend time interacting in person with others.
- Smile and hug often.
- Ask your doctor about taking vitamin D supplements.
- Plan a sunny vacation.
Increased exposure to natural sunlight would be the first line of defense. Depression often results from a deficiency in vitamin D, which humans absorb from solar rays. Experiment with blue light therapy, which mimics the ultraviolet spectrum of natural light, during stretches of rain, snow, cold, and gray.
Diet and exercise also play an important role in the winter, when we tend to hibernate and eat hearty comfort food. This leads to sluggishness and poor self-image. Working out triggers a chemical reaction where the brain releases positive hormones. Meanwhile, light meals made of whole plant foods can cut through dullness or lack of motivation.
Interacting with people in real life—off social media—keeps you physically busy and mentally engaged. Mental health professionals insist that hugs, smiles, and spending time in nature all have a measurable positive psychological effect.