Beat the Daylight Savings Blues
Updated: Nov 17, 2019
Daylight saving just prompted us to turn our clocks back an hour last Sunday. Whether you rejoice this annual practice for the extra hour of sleep for a day, or you loath it for its initiation of long cold days to come, one thing that it certainly means is that we are exposed to less sun during these coming winter month.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a real phenomenon that can rear its not-so-pleasant head this time of year. According to the American Psychological Association, SAD is defined as a type of depression that lasts a season (typically the winter months) and goes away the rest of the year. Symptoms are depressive in nature, ranging from sadness and fatigue, to feelings of hopelessness and less interest in activities. As a physical therapist this matters to my patients because depression may lead to less participation in social and recreational activities, which may have a negative impact for people wanting to meet their fitness or rehab goals. Additionally, studies show that depression can exacerbate pain. (Read here about the well-studied link between depression and low back pain specifically.) The good news is that you can do something to help this dip in mood if you experience it these upcoming months.
Here are 3 ideas to combat SAD this fall and winter:
Exercise releases endorphins (the good-feeling hormones) and therefore boosts mood. Exercise truly is the natural anti-depressant. You don’t have to do much; just get moving. If it’s cold outside you can still do a little dancing in your living room or dust off those gym shoes and find a local YMCA or gym to join. If you’re on a budget, I’ve had patients tell me they go to Walmart (or pick your large store of choice) to walk a few laps around. There’s always a Silver Sneakers option for our 65+ friends where there are opportunities to join a gym for free in your community who participate in that program.
2. Break out of your routine.
Just by changing up your routine a little, your brains is stimulated in a way that fires more neurons and keeps your brain healthy! What does that have to do with fighting off SAD? Well, if you switch things up and get more activity in the brain, then you may be more apt to feel enlivened and spontaneous. That sounds like a pick-me-up if I’ve ever heard one! So if you drive to work, pick a different route. Or if you always sit in the same spot on your commute or during a meal, pick a different seat. See how your worldview changes from just this simple change in your daily routine.
3. Seek out the sun.
It sounds simple, but simply expose yourself to more sun! What I mean is make an effort to see the daylight hours whenever you can, even if it means sacrificing a few minutes of your morning routine to sit in a sun-lit chair, or if you typically don’t step outside during your lunch hour, take 5 minutes and get yourself some Vitamin D the natural way. (While you’re out there, maybe try a few Sun Breaths.) From a personal standpoint, I can attest that being outside in the winter truly helped me last year. I learned how to ski last winter so I was outside more than I ever was in winters past. That resulted in the most enjoyable winter I can remember, and I truly think that it was in large part from getting the sun’s healing rays!
As the short days continue and you notice that you are experiencing the winter blues still, don’t hesitate to seek additional help from a licensed professional. I am a huge fan of talk therapy, and it can work wonders. You can also try light therapy, specific "light boxes" that omit light that mimics outdoor light and are specially designed to combat SAD. If you're looking for one to try, this Verilux light box has excellent reviews.
(This is an affiliate link and by purchasing here you support Mountains & Motion.)
Specific mental health assistance is beyond my scope of practice, but physical therapists can advocate for the health and well-being of the whole individual. That’s what I’m doing here. Take action where you can, and know that there are licensed professionals available
to assist when you need it. Now head outside and catch some sun!