Fall is here, bringing with it lots of rain and overcast days. For many of us, the joy of the changing seasons is dampened by the signal it sends that winter is approaching -- bringing with it the “winter blues.”
What are the “winter blues”? There's sound scientific evidence to support the idea that the season can affect our moods. Most scientists believe that the problem is related to the way the body responds to daylight. If the winter blues is about lack of daylight, it's no surprise that getting more light helps. But what are other ways to combat seasonal depression? Here are some evidence-based suggestions that can lift your spirits.
Get outside. Especially if the sun is out, even partially, getting a dose of natural light seems to make a difference. According to Harvard Medical School, our bodies need sun to make vitamin D, a vitamin that plays a crucial role in many body processes, from bone development to our immune system to our mood. Our bodies work best when they get some sunshine every day.
To increase the effect, take a walk. Walking lets you have more social interaction, and just exchanging a friendly smile or greeting as you walk around your neighborhood can help your mood. The cold doesn’t have to prohibit or limit time outdoors if you dress for the weather by wearing layers.
Get moving. A body of evidence shows that exercise improves mood and fights depression. According to the Mayo Clinic, the links between depression, anxiety and exercise aren't entirely clear — but working out and other forms of physical activity can definitely ease symptoms of depression or anxiety and make you feel better. Exercise may also help keep depression and anxiety from coming back once you're feeling better. In fact, researchers at Yale and Oxford may have proven that exercise is more important to your mental health than your economic status.
Here’s what the Mayo Clinic has to say about why physical activity fights depression:
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• Exercise releases feel-good endorphins and other natural brain chemicals that can enhance your sense of well-being to fight stress, anxiety and depression. Winter holidays often bring with them added stress, contributing to the winter blues. Virtually any form of exercise, from aerobics to yoga, can act as a stress reliever.
• It takes your mind off worries, breaking you out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression and anxiety.
• It helps you gain confidence by 1) meeting exercise goals or challenges, 2) engaging in a positive activity to manage depression, and 3) possibly making you feel better about your appearance.
Choose food that fights depression. A recent study found that symptoms of depression dropped significantly among a group of young adults after they followed a Mediterranean-style pattern of eating for three weeks. Participants saw their depression "score" fall from the "moderate" range down to the "normal" range, and they reported lower levels of anxiety and stress, too. A Mediterranean-style diet is one that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables and limits highly processed foods.
Limit screen time. Too much sedentary time in front of a screen -- TV, computer, phone, etc. -- negatively impacts health whether you’re 6 or 86 years old. But particularly for adolescents, a major study recently found that adolescents who spend more than seven hours a day on screens were twice as likely as those spending one hour to have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression. Pediatricians and other medical professionals recommend limiting screen time to 2 hours per day.
Do something kind. According to numerous studies, being kind and receiving kindness can help relieve stress, is good for your physical and mental health, and may lengthen your life.
Check out LNKTV Health at lnktv.lincoln.ne.gov for a community wellness calendar. Visit the “Health & the City” playlist on YouTube (@LNKTVhealth) for tips on cold weather exercise and family friendly nutrition tips.
Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln (HealthyLincoln.org) and LNKTV Health (LNKTVhealth.lincoln.ne.gov) bring you Health and the City, a monthly column that examines relevant community health issues and spotlights the local organizations that impact community wellness. Direct questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.