It’s cold and you are feeling the winter blues.

The holidays are over. The sky is cloudy and it’s dark when you wake up. You don’t want to get out of bed.

You feel irritable, tired, unable to concentrate, want to eat, crave carbohydrates, and feel like being alone. It’s hard to get motivated. You just want to hibernate!

Since this feeling comes on seasonally, you wonder, “Why I am feeling so down and unmotivated?”

About 20% of people struggle to shake off those winter blues. All they can think about is sitting in the sun somewhere in the Caribbean. Actually, this is not such a crazy thought. 35 million Americans may be affected by winter depression. The “winter blues” has a name, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Most sufferers of SAD are women in their 30’s (although the disorder affects others including children). SAD usually begins mid-October and ends around April when Spring arrives.

You may be surprised to learn that SAD can also have a Spring/Summer pattern as well. However, both the winter and summer seasonal types of depression have to do with sensitivity to light–those who get too little light (the fall/winter pattern), and those who get too much light (the spring/summer pattern). Light impacts our sleep-wake cycle and when that cycle is impaired, depression can result. And SAD is also tied to latitude–the farther north you live, the less light you get in the winter.

So what can you do to stop being an irritable or depressed family member? Move to Florida? You could but there is a cheaper and easier solution.

Here are 6 things you can do if you suffer from Fall/Winter SAD? Many of these involve getting more light:

  1. Lift your shades in home or apartment and let the sunlight into your rooms.
  2. If the sun is shining brightly outside, don’t wear sunglasses for part of the time. The eyes bring in light and help with mood regulation.
  3. Bundle up and do outdoor activities that expose you to natural light. Take a brisk walk, sit on a park bench and enjoy the sunny days of winter.
  4. Consider trying a light box or dawn simulator (talk to your mental health provider about how these work). These commercial lighting devices and florescent light boxes help many people. Some insurers will even reimburse you for the light devices. Some people are helped more by using intense light in the mornings, while others respond to increased light anytime of the day. Again, check with your health or mental health provider.
  5. Try 30 minutes of sitting under a fluorescent light while watching TV, reading, etc. However, you shouldn’t stare into a light source. You’ll only get a headache! Just do a normal activity with the light in your field of vision.
  6. Stay in the spiritual light as well. Boost your mood by staying spiritually strong. Read your Bible and be encouraged!

    The Lord is my light and salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid, He is our anchor and hope. He is our anchor and hope. Psalm 27:1

You should be careful not to self-diagnose SAD because you may confuse symptoms with other conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. Make sure you have a physical exam and do not have another cause for feeling depressed.

And if you suffer from severe depression you should consult a mental health professional. Light won’t hurt you, but it may not help either. If you feel depressed after trying these things, you will need to see a health care professional and be treated for depression in more conventional ways.

Isn’t it amazing that a source of God’s creation–light, can improve mood? Remember the Sunday School song, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine?”  Don’t hide it under a bushel like the song exhorts. Get into the light.  Let it shine.  Let it shine. Let it shine!

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