Here Comes the Sun: How to Cope with the Winter Blues
It’s Reading Week but your part-time job has called you in to do more shifts as one of your colleagues has come into contact with a positive COVID-19 case and is in quarantine. At the same time, your high school best friend is celebrating her 21st birthday and you’re the designated person to organize her Zoom birthday party. It’s obvious you have a lot on your to-do list, and you find yourself overwhelmed and unable to start on anything to cross something off it. However, in past years at around the same period, you’ve had a lot on your plate as something unexpected always came along, but you’ve handled those times like a pro. What makes this year different?
Most likely you’ve succumbed to the so-called “winter blues,” which is common when the days start to get colder and darker. It is a normal human process, though the effects may be different from person to person; some may feel sluggish, while others lose their appetite. However, if the effects are more severe like feeling hopeless about the future, then it might be more than the winter doldrums, but rather Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). In this case, it may be best to consult with your doctor.
SAD as a condition was first clinically diagnosed in the 1980s when physician Norman Rosenthal moved from South Africa to the United States and noticed how he became unproductive during winter months and recovered by springtime. After this observation, he collaborated with his colleagues at the National Institutes of Health to conduct research on how light exposure affected circadian rhythms, which are 24-hour cycles that make up the body’s internal clock, running in the background to carry out essential functions and processes. The research would in turn pave the way for light exposure therapy.
Many are unaware of how important sunlight exposure is to our physical and mental health. And when the days are shorter like what happens in winter, we are deprived of that much-needed sunlight exposure. A normal dosage of sunlight (5 to 15 minutes) gives us Vitamin D, which is essential to modulate cell growth and reduce inflammation. Sun exposure also helps improve our mood, promotes better quality of sleep, lowers blood pressure, and leads to stronger bones.
Fortunately, there are ways to deal with the lack of sun exposure without necessarily falling prone to the winter blues. Here are some that you can try out:
Start the day on a positive note… literally.
Keep a notebook and a pen close on your bedside table, and make it a point when you wake up in the morning to write down three things that you are blessed to have in your life or you’re grateful for. This will set a more positive start to your day.
Create a pleasant space.
When you look out your window and all you see is a blanket of white snow, it may be hard to get your mind off the doldrums. However, a good way to conquer winter gloom is to contradict what’s going on outside by setting up a spring- or summer-like study or work nook in your place. Decorate your desk with the brightest-coloured flowers you can find in your corner store and spritz on some citrus scents.
Dress in clothes in cheerful colours.
Our garb also plays a role in our mood, and wearing sunny-coloured clothing can do a lot to help turn things around. But which colour to choose, you may ask – yellow, orange, or green? Well, an unspoken rule is if you can stop traffic with the colour, then you’re doing it right. Another way to beat the winter lull with your outfits is to go for softer fabrics because they give you that cuddly feeling.
Get light therapy.
If you’re unable to go out for natural light therapy, the next best thing is using light boxes that produce a bright white light. Several options are available online to suit one’s aesthetics and personal needs, but remember to follow health and safety protocols when using one. For instance, you should not directly look at the light; rather keep it in front of you or to the side.
Do an activity you enjoy.
Too much studying or working can take its toll on anyone. So find the time to give yourself a break and take this time to do something you enjoy, whether it’s rewatching your favourite movie, listening to your most-cherished band, or playing online games with your family or friends. Doing so will take your mind off the things that cause you stress, and you’ll feel refreshed and re-energized.
Now that we’ve looked into ways to rid yourself of the winter glumness, it’s time to let the sunshine in!