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“You’re moving to Chicago? How in the heck are you going to survive the cold and dreary Midwest winters? You’re a California girl.”
It was a balmy 68-degree day in January with blinding sun rays reflecting off our silver metal sidewalk table outside Rose’s Café, our go-to brunch spot in the Marina district of San Francisco. My friend Corinne was drinking her usual “more champagne than orange juice” mimosa. Her second one to be exact.
I hadn’t eaten much the night before and was attacking my favorite entrée, poached eggs, grilled chicken-tarragon sausages, and spicy tomato polenta. I didn’t give her question must thought. All I could think of was the delicious tummy candy displayed before me.
“I’ll be fine. I’ll wear more clothes, turn on my heater, take a vacation. I’ll survive.”
That conversation seems like eons ago, yet it still continues to stand out in my mind. It was the first time I gave the slightest inclination of giving a shit about the dark and dreary Midwest winters.
When I made the cross-country move to Chicago, worrying about winter blues, how to prepare for winter depression, or how to kick seasonal depression were not on my list of to-dos.
For most of my life, I’ve been blessed to live in the land of sunshine, the sunny California coast. My pre-high-school years, however, were spent in the Pacific Northwest where locals must learn how to deal with cloudy weather and relentless rain. The cold, rain, and dreariness never bothered me in my youth. Then again, I had my nose in a book most days. I wouldn’t have known sunshine was around unless it burnt me on the nose.
After living in the Midwest for nearly four years now, I’ve learned that winter and depression go hand in hand. I wouldn’t say it is the salty roads full of soot and snow, but more so the darkness of winter. The mornings blur into nights and the nights blur into days. The sky is cloudy and glum. Everything is just… blah. Everything looks… blah. You start feeling…you guessed it…blah!
If your mood heads south as the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, you may have “seasonal depression.”
When does seasonal depression start, you ask?
Seasonal depression, also known as seasonal-affective disorder (SAD) happens “during the late fall and early winter months, when less natural sunlight is available. It’s thought to occur when daily body rhythms become out-of-sync because of the reduced sunlight.”
Other factors are your serotonin and melatonin levels. Reduced sunlight can cause a drastic drop in serotonin (brain chemical that is a neurotransmitter) which may trigger depression. Changes in the season also disrupt the level of melatonin, which affects your mood and sleep patterns.
According to the Mayo Clinic, seasonal depression symptoms may include:
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Tiredness or low energy
Researchers at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom found that women are four times more likely than men to experience seasonal-affective disorder with their symptoms climaxing during the winter months.
Add being a stay at home mom to the mix and I’m sure that number would be even more startling.
I’ve always been that happy-go-lucky gal with a smile on my face. The type of person who is always laughing and cracking corny AF jokes. That friendly face started to disappear, however, in the cold sunless Midwest winters. That is, until I started doing some research and found some great tools to help me combat my winter blues.
Here are 7 tips on how to combat SAD and kick winter gloom to the curb.
1. Get outside
Even if the sun isn’t out, it can still help. The natural light on those gray cloudy days does good for SAD. Besides the natural light, being outdoors in the crisp fresh air works wonders for your soul. Even a five-minute walk to the mailbox lifts my spirits. Well, that is until I see the stack of bills and junk mail addressed to yours truly. Maybe, just walk around the block, my friends.
2. Use a dawn simulator
A dawn simulator is a device that mimics the rising of the sun and its gradually increasing intensity, each morning and throughout the day. The one I use increases in brightness over a 30-minute period before my programmed wake-up time, growing more powerful until my room is overcome with sunny yellow light. In a study conducted by the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University, “dawn simulation and negative air ionization, both activated toward the end of sleep, proved to be as effective as bright light therapy after waking up — an established treatment for winter depression.”
3. Make your home brighter
Pull up the shades, sit by windows, leave on the house lights, and cut back branches to allow more sunlight in the house. A great design tip that helps brighten your home is to create a mirror collage on a wall opposite a window. This adds a cool focal point to your room as well as brightens your space.
4. Wear a light visor
A light visor is equipped with a special light and is used for a specified amount of time each day. In the dead of crappy winter weather, sometimes I’ll use it up to 90 minutes. The light stays strong during all of that time, and even better, most visors are rechargeable.
5. Take vitamin D supplements
Research suggests that a vitamin D deficiency might underlie SAD and that supplementing with vitamin Dmight help. Since it is estimated that “more than 70 percent of the U.S. population is D-deficient, most doctors recommend that everyone take a daily supplement of 2,000 IU, but sometimes higher doses of vitamin D may be needed to effectively treat SAD.” I’m not a fan of popping pills, this is one pill I can swallow.
6. Sit in front of a light box
A light box mimics outdoor light, for a certain amount of time each day. Researchers believe this type of light causes a chemical change in the brain that lifts your mood and eases other symptoms of seasonal-affective disorder. You can get a light box aka therapy lamp for just under $40. It balances your body clock, leaving you feeling rested, refreshed, and helps to address the nagging symptoms of SAD for just 15-60 minutes a day. I recommend doing at least 30-minute increments, if possible.
7. Work your muscles
Exercising daily helps fight many ails, including the winter blues. I must admit, some days exercise just really sucks, but nothing helps lift my mood faster than a quick zoom on my elliptical. If you don’t have a workout machine, do YouTube workout videos and use 23 oz soup cans for weights during the floor routines. Heck girl, have more sex! It counts as exercise and raises your serotonin levels! A win-win. Just don’t expect me to turn the lights on for that one (yes, still rockin’ the mom bod)
Even if you’re a snow bunny in Germany or a rain-loving mama in the Pacific Northwest, winter blues can still wreak havoc on your mood and leave you with a sense of melancholy. With these tips, you can brighten those gloomy days and feel like more like your old self again.
What do you do to keep your spirits up during the dark winter months?
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.