If you live in the Midwest, you spend approximately 30% of your life in a darkened wintery existence. Seasonal Affective Disorder impacts approximately 10 million people annually in the US, and it's not something to take lightly.
Symptoms are all too real. Many withdraw as they tell themselves “it's just too cold to go out.” Hypersomnia kicks in due to circadian rhythms adjusting to the shorter hours of daylight. Automatic thoughts of “just buckle down until spring” and “winter sucks'' pervade the consciousness. The fun, outdoor activities of balmier weather go by the wayside and winter weight slowly packs on. Self-destructive tendencies increase due to lethargy, and we gorge ourselves on carbohydrates and sugary foods. “Festive beverages” also become a habit as they hit the “feel good” areas of the brain. It's only a matter of time before we crash and find ourselves sleepy, bloated and slumped over on the couch watching reruns on TV. How can we not be angry with ourselves?
Something has to change.
First, remember that the quality of life depends on what we regularly say to ourselves. Stop focusing on everything you hate about winter and shift your thinking.
How do you do this? A good first step is to stop complaining. We reinforce negativity when it comes out of the mouth to be heard again by the ears. Second, start a gratitude journal in which, every day, you list out three things you are appreciative for. Find things you can enjoy about the winter. Perhaps consider building a fire or purchasing a gently used hot tub. Plan a getaway at the end of January to have something to look forward to. Finally, reach out to those you care about and encourage them out of their own “winter suckiness.” Intentionality is necessary to change these negative thought patterns.
Next, use your time wisely. Don’t wish the cold months away. Winter can be a time to slow down–read that novel that is gathering dust, watch the classic movies, be grateful for not having to cut your grass or tend to your yard. Take on an indoor task such as painting or cleaning out the attic. Get creative: learn to paint, make homemade cards, or play board games with your grandfather or elderly parents. Use winter as an opportunity to help others. Visit those who are truly “shut in,” and take them a bag of groceries.
Last, take care of your physical and neural biological needs. BUNDLE UP! Going outside without proper garments will only make you miserable! When you get tired, eat complex carbohydrates like fruit that will ease the craving for sugar and will give you a much-needed energy boost. Both your mind and body benefit from exercise. The brain only comprises approximately 2% of your body weight but requires one-fifth of the blood flow in your body. Exercise is the number one way to pump blood through your brain. It helps to sharpen attention span, elevate mood, and reduce cravings for sugary snacks, especially when it is focused on cardiovascular impact.
Further, many people find relief with the use of full spectrum lighting, which simulates natural sunlight. Without enough natural sunlight, circadian rhythms, serotonin, and melatonin levels are affected. The brain sends signals that it’s time to go to bed and that the activities of the day are over.
For many, winter needs to be redefined and re-approached. We don’t have to “wish winter away.” Not taking full advantage of this time is a terrible waste and it doesn’t have to happen.
Death by Winter
(A Sonnet in tribute to those who struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder)
By Kristy Cobillas
Each winter I fear that it will take me.
The blanket of despair around me rolls.
The gray skies bleed coloring everything,
And I don’t see the beauty in the snow.
The everlasting days of summer gone,
The darkness swiftly steals the sun away.
And with it takes my joy inside along.
So, I don’t dare anticipate the day.
To some it’s just the beating of the wind,
Slapping their cheeks until they’re chapped and red.
For me the coldness penetrates within,
And paralyzes me upon my bed.
The knife against my throat to take my life
I hesitate for spring is just in sight.