The rainy season has set in hard in Oregon. This dreary time, combined with no immediate prospects of vacationing, is causing everyone to feel the effects of seasonal affective disorder – or SAD. SAD is the clinical term for the depressing jag you can fall into when you don't get enough sunshine, exercise, and positive social interaction. If you've woken up on a grey winter day and wanted to stay in bed, then you know what we're talking about.
Working on your mental health during the long, blah, winter months takes everyday effort. Try these five ways to feel better today.
Embrace the weather and just get outside. Exercise can work just as well as an antidepressant in fighting mild to moderate depression. If you can, check out a new winter activity like snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. If you're unable to get up to the snowline, check your local community center for covered outdoor exercises. For example, the Portland Parks Department offers low-cost, safely distanced, group exercise classes at facilities that have covered playgrounds and courts.
Or, simply get those muck boots on and hit any number of local trails. Just remember to wear your mask if the path is too narrow to safely pass other hikers at a distance of six feet.
The internet has a wealth of free recorded exercise classes or group fitness opportunities for those who can't get outside (or simply don't want to brave the rain). We've even put together a series of stretching videos for you! Check them out here or on our IGTV.
The winter is an excellent time to embrace slowness and nurture your spirit. In Denmark, where they experience one of the longest, darkest winters around, they call this hygge. Loosely translated as "coziness," hygge is all about embracing the good, slow, things in life. Light a fire or some candles and curl up with a good book. Break out your most comfortable clothes, some wooly socks, and cook yourself a healthy meal. Play a board game with your kids.
Light and breath therapy
Bright light has been proven to help people diagnosed with SAD. A lightbox that produces a full spectrum of light at a high enough intensity can help regulate your body’s natural rhythms, improving your mood. Plan to use your box daily from 30 to 60 minutes. Studies show that the best results happen when using a lightbox before 10 a.m. at approximately the same time every day.
Some simple breathing techniques can energize you to start your day more focused and positive. Check out this one-minute breathing exercise to boost your mood and productivity.
Sunlight is the main health-booster you’re lacking in these dull winter months. Sunlight helps our bodies produce Vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential to our mental health, as well as lifting us out of “brain fog.” Recent studies also show that Vitamin D can help us ward off illness – something we can all use right now. Since we can’t rush off to a sunnier climate this year, make sure you’re boosting your Vitamin D with a supplement. Check with your doctor about how much extra Vitamin D you should be taking.
Call a friend
While our social interaction opportunities are reduced this year, increasing person-to-person connection, even virtually, is a crucial mood-booster. Don't be shy! Call a friend, an old coworker, or even drop them an email to say “hi.” Forcing yourself to socialize can lift your spirits. Catching up and sharing a laugh may benefit them as much as it will help you.
With these simple steps, you should find yourself with more energy to get up and face even the shortest days. But remember, if your depression symptoms are severe or persistent despite your best efforts, seek professional help.