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Published on January 07, 2020

winter blues sign

Combat the Winter Blues

In the Midwest, we often pride ourselves on making it through extreme winters, even if it’s painful.

Six inches of snow and 45 mph winds? We just grin and bear it — and maybe put on another pair of wool socks.

But when it comes to feeling depressed during the wintertime, you don’t need to suffer. “There are things you can do to help,” said Larry Ling, CSW-PIP, Clinical Therapist, Avera Behavioral Outpatient Services.

During winter, more people often report feeling depressed and tired. Whether it’s the “winter blues” or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — a form of depression that is often attributed to seasonal light variation — there are ways to manage your symptoms. It can be as simple as joining a gym for the dual benefits of exercising and socializing.

Take it from Ling, a California guy who now lives in South Dakota. “The weather is a major change for me. I decided I’m not going to be that person who sits in the house all winter and gets miserable,” he said.

Instead, you might find Ling at a basketball or hockey game. Activities like these will give you social interaction — and get you out of house. He also uses a light therapy lamp for about 20 to 25 minutes a day. It can be a good option if you work inside all day. The lamp emits UV lights that simulate light at similar levels as you would get from the sun.

Here are four strategies to manage seasonal blues:

  1. Exercise. Exercise and sunshine are the best antidotes to the winter blues. It’s not only the endorphins and physical benefits you’ll get from it, but the social aspect too. Even if you’re not exercising outside, you’ll still gain benefits. “Exercise is a major anti-depressant for some people,” Ling said.
  2. Seek out social activities. It’s easy to become isolated during the winter, but look for ways to get face-to-face social interaction, which will help improve your mood. Remember that social media isn’t a substitute for the real thing. Meet up with friends and go to the movies, a sporting event or the mall — anything in-person counts.
  3. Go outside. Get any sunlight that you can during the day. Bundle up and go for a quick walk over your lunch break. Or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, try outdoor winter activities like cross-country skiing.
  4. Seek out help. Notice any changes in how you’re feeling during the winter. Be sure to talk with your provider about any serious symptoms of depression.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is characterized by the onset of depression during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. The depression generally lifts during spring and summer. (Source: National Institute of Mental Health)

SAD affects about half a million people every winter between September and April, according to Mental Health America.

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