It’s mid-winter, and I’m antsy. Shorter days, being stuck indoors, and lack of sunlight (plus – surprsingly – a lack of snow here in Southern Maine) will really take a toll on even the heartiest of souls. For some, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a very real problem that can lead to depression, anxiety, and physical problems. Even if you’re not suffering from SAD, another affliction – cabin fever – can set in after too many hours/days/weeks/months of being cooped up indoors. What to do?
SAD is pretty easy to detect. You’ll feel lethargic and have crashes, especially in the afternoon. You’ll crave carbs, have an increased appetite, and want to sleep more. A lot more. Worst of all, you’ll start to feel depressed, and that can lead to social anxiety and withdrawal. No one wants to feel that way, but unfortunately, SAD feeds off itself, so it can be difficult to pull yourself out of it, especially when you’re stuck inside.
Fortunately, you can treat yourself for SAD. Aside from seeing a doctor who can prescribe medications for the depression, a change in diet, exercise habits, and time spent outdoors can really help to alleviate, if not eliminate, the problem. Sure, you can use a light therapy lamp to get some more daylight, and it will likely help. A better solution is to go outside, no matter how cold (layers, people. Layers), and enjoy what daylight you do have. The extra exercise will get your blood flowing and your body burning extra calories and the “bad fats” that would normally be stored as extra weight. Plus, you’ll stay warm!
Diet is also a key factor in treating SAD. Erin Dow, Expert Chef for Guiding Stars Licensing Company (GuidingStars on Twitter), says “For me, eating a diet that includes healthy portions of dairy and eggs, fish, lean white meats, avocado, and nuts [is] helpful; it provides me with a boost of Vitamin B-12, Vitamin D, and tryptophan, an amino acid that many believe aids serotonin production in the brain and boosts mood.” Erin knows first hand the effects of SAD. “SAD is a bona-fide medical condition that I believe should be evaluated by a professional. I…believe that with our diet, we can help ourselves through these long winters. Eating a varied and colorful diet reduces…overall stress, keeping [your] body and mind healthier overall. Frankly, eating delicious foods makes me happier anyway, so it’s a win-win situation.”
In addition to a poor diet, if you’re confined by four walls with only a little bit of light streaming through the windows, it’s not enough to just sit by those windows, as your body knows it’s still got the darkness around you.
That leads me to a less severe, but no less irritating, winter problem:
We’ve all had this problem: You’re stuck inside because it’s too cold/snowy/dark outside, and you just don’t feel like going out into that. But you’re getting antsy, and you need to move around. Nah, you don’t want to go to the gym. No, you don’t want to go for a walk (didn’t they just hear you? It’s too cold/snowy/dark outside!). But man, you gotta do something! Maybe you’ll clean your room; you end up cleaning the entire house. Ok, that’s done. Hey, look at those old photo albums! You haven’t looked through all 97 of them in years! Well, ok, those weren’t as interesting as you thought. Maybe you’ll just go take a nap (SAD anyone?). But all you can do is toss and turn. Guess you’ll just go watch a movie on tv. Can’t watch a movie without popcorn. Oh, and a soda too. Maybe some candy to cheer me up. Nope. Hey, it’s raining out now! Well, you can still go out in that and be ok. You just need your raincoat. Now where is it?
Cabin fever is less serious than SAD, but no less irritating. While cabin fever is not an official medical condition, being stuck indoors for extended periods of time can lead to some of the same symptoms of SAD, on a less debilitating level. Cabin fever is not actually an official diagnosis of anything except needing to get your ass out of the house. It’s a damn fine excuse to strap on your boots, put on an extra layer of clothing, and hit the trails or wander the neighborhood.
I’m telling you: GO OUTSIDE!
Yeah, that’s actually a really good solution to all this. Go outside more. Even if you spend twenty minutes a day outside walking, running, getting the mail, something, that time spent with natural daylight will make you feel that much better. And the more time you spend out there, the better you’ll feel. If you’re at work, take a few minutes during your lunch break to walk around outside. The weekends are a prime time for outdoor activities, and the calories you’ll burn will actually make you feel better. Also, as we learned earlier in this post, eating the right kinds of foods can only help things improve. When it comes to both SAD and cabin fever, you have to take action to make things better. Once you take that very first step, your winter life will improve.
Disclaimer: No one in this article (myself or Erin Dow) are medical professionals. If you feel any of the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, I recommend you seek professional medical attention immediately. Seriously, do it. You’ll feel better.