Let There Be Light: 10 Ways Beat the Winter Blues.

In a previous life, perhaps I was a plant or a cat.

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I crave sunlight the way I imagine one might crave a drug. I need my daily fix. I plan my schedule and location around it. I feel sorry for people who have to work in a windowless office or worse—under fluorescent lights that make my head throb. I’m suspicious of people who keep their shades down on a sunny day. 

Summer is my most creative and happy time. I love warm nights, wearing sundresses, eating outdoors, and walking on the beach. But one can’t live for 3 months of the year. 

Did I mention I live in New England?

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My natural high energy state begins to dwindle in November when the clocks change to daylight savings.Most people experience an energy slump during the cold, dark days of winter. Some, like me, have an extreme version known as SAD-seasonal affective disorder which brings on a  gloomy sluggishness. I can sum up my state-of-being with two equations:

 Cold + Gray = low energy and depressed mood. 

 Dark + Cold = hibernation mode..

 Where ever you fall on the winter blues spectrum, here are 10 coping strategies to try.

l. Catch the rays

Try to catch the early sunlight through a walk or window. This helps to wake your brain, regulate biorhythms and lift your mood. Right now, as I write this post, I’m in my favorite indoor sunny spot. Even when life takes a hard turn, I always feel a little better when sitting near a sunny window. I call this winter sunbathing. So open your shades!   

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2. Light Therapy

My doctor wrote me a prescription for a light therapy box. You can buy them online. I use one from Verilux. These are not sunlamps that emit UV.  These type of light boxes mimic outdoor light. I read or eat in front of mine for 20-30 minutes in the morning.  It causes a chemical change in the brain that lifts your mood and eases other symptoms of SAD. It can help your body clock synchronize with the day. This response comes from the light going through your retina, not your skin.  Some people use a dawn simulator lamp to help the get out of bed on dark mornings. 

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3. Sunny Images

My brain relaxes when it sees pictures of flower gardens, tropical paradises, and ocean beaches. I keep photos of happy summer memories on display. Try setting your screensaver to your favorite sunny scene. Listening to ocean wave sounds can induce a relaxed state, as well. Every little bit helps.

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4. Fly South   

I’m lucky to have family I can visit in Florida.  Soaking up the sun and vitamin D for a week does gives me an incredible boost with lasting effects.  I haven’t been able to convince my doc to write me an Rx for this, though.

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5. Keep Warm. 

There is a Swedish saying, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.”  Even though I grew up in Michigan, I realized as an adult that I knew little about how to properly dress for winter.  So I Invested in a really warm coat, leggings, sweaters, gloves, and boots. This helped increased my cold tolerance. I hate shivering.

6. Exercise 

No surprise that gym memberships peak in the winter. The cold days make you want to move less and eat more. My salvation is dance and working out at the gym. Consistent exercise anytime of the year has been shown to ease depression. And exercising in bright daylight may intensify the effect. 

 7. Get Outside

Okay, I’ll admit that this one is really tough for me to carry out. Fresh air is good for you. Even in the cold. Still, my friends know not to ask me to go walking on a grey day below 40 degrees. I should go, but I won’t. On these type of days, errands get put off and the gym seems too far a destination. My body tells me I must feed it chocolate. Give me a sunny winter morning, though, and I might just venture outdoors for that good-for-you-walk.

8. Mood Music

Upbeat and cheerful music lift my spirits and gets me moving when the couch is calling. Make a  Winter Blues Crusher playlist. Some of my happy favorite tunes are:  Glad You Came (The Fighters), Feel Again (One Republic), Come to Me (Goo Goo Dolls), and Home (Phillip Phillips).

9. Winter Sports

 I was an avid ice skater as a teenager.  Now, I admit the sport holds less appeal. I’ll go if my daughter drags me along. Still, if you can find a winter sport you love, like skiing or snowshoeing,  you’ll enjoy the winter that much more. (Just don’t ask me to join you.  I’ll be indoors by the fire.)

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10. Surrender 

 “For everything there is a season.”  Wise words. Sometimes you just have to work on acceptance.  If winter is a hard time for you, figure out what can make it better.  Be kind to yourself. A Stanford University researcher who studied the residents of northern Norway, found that an attitude shift, or change in mindset, helped people feel happier during the long dark winter. This fascinating study got me thinking. Maybe this winter I will try to embrace the season, rather than endure it.

Want to join me?

So Get cozy. Build a fire. Enjoy a cup of hot cocoa. Make a snowman with your kids.

Wishing you a happ(ier) winter!

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