Blue Monday

Wintertime can be difficult for many people.  Especially in Indiana, it is a season of cold, dreary, short days.  When immediately moving to Florida isn’t an option, what can we do to shake the winter blues?

First, it’s important to recognize what you’re experiencing.  As always, self-awareness is key.  Being self-aware means being intentional about evaluating your emotional experience.  Do you always feel sad, lethargic, and irritable in the wintertime?  Most of us experience some lack of motivation in the cold, dark winter days but if you notice it’s a pattern and it’s interfering with your ability to function (i.e. take care of yourself and your kids), it’s something to take seriously.  According to the National Institute of Health, 14% of American adults experience lower mood during the winter while 6% of the adult American population experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  SAD is condition in which one recurrently experiences episodes of depression during a certain time of year (typically winter) and experiences alleviation in symptoms with the change of season.

The month of January can be specifically difficult for most people.  In fact, the Monday of the last full week in January has been deemed Blue Monday by pop culture (not to be confused with solid, psychological research!).  As the cold weather sits in, financial stress from the holiday season takes over, the amount of sunlight per day is short, and we find ourselves failing our optimistic New Years resolutions, we feel the weight of this so-called Blue Monday.  So, how can we take a proactive, healthy approach to these dull winter months?  Here are a few ideas:

  1. Get some sunlight.  When there isn’t much sunlight available outside, light therapy can help.  Light therapy involves a light box that you sit in front of each day that is believed to mimic the light of the sun and therefore have a positive impact on your brain.  They are available without a prescription.
  2. Exercise.  Exercise has been shown to increase mood, decrease stress, and boost serotonin.  According to some, exercising outdoors for an hour can have the same effect as 2 hours of light therapy.  Exercise also helps you sleep.
  3. Sleep.  Whether you experience hypersomnia in the cold winter months or difficulty sleeping, be sure to maintain good sleep hygiene.  Keep a routine with your sleep and wake times and be smart about consuming caffeine and alcohol that can interfere with sleep.  Sleep deprivation can contribute to low mood as well as many other emotional and physiological conditions.
  4. Eat well.  Binging on sweets can leave you feeling more lethargic.  Instead, maintain good nutrition in the winter months to provide you energy to face the day.

Hopefully these tips will help you shake the pesky winter blues as we wrap up the season.  If you do think you suffer from depression with a seasonal pattern, consider contacting the behavioral health department at one of our HealthNet clinics.  You are not doomed to be depressed and miserable each winter– there are therapies that can be beneficial and clinicians at each clinic ready to help.

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