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How to Beat the Winter Blues – From SAD Lamps to Brain Games

The winter blues (and blahs) are here – but not to stay! These tips on how to beat the winter blues range from SAD light therapy lamps to brain games.

Why live with feelings of sadness and fatigue when you don’t have to?

Before the tips, a quip:

“Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut.

Laughter is invigorating. It recharges your battery, and it’s good for your mood, immune system, brain, and overall health — and it’s less messy than crying. One of the best ways to beat the winter blues is to “set” yourself to laugh — which I do many nights with old 30 Rock episodes! What’s your favorite movie or TV show? Watch it — or start researching funny movies by watching a few different funny movies a week. Consider it research for winter depression — it’s your homework.

SAD Light Therapy Lamp is another effective way to beat the winder blues. Below, I describe how they help people overcome winter depression.

How to Beat the Winter Blues – From SAD Lamps to Brain Games

Try to learn the cause of your winter blues. “There are many causes of SAD or seasonal depression, such as grieving the loss of a loved one, a cherished home or possessions, or a relationship,” says Dr George Pratt, author of Instant Emotional Healing: Acupressure for the Emotions. “Those losses can make it hard to muster up happiness this time of year. December may bring back memories of holidays with loved ones who are no longer here. Or perhaps the annual gathering of family is something you dread rather than look forward to.”

Figuring out the reasons you feel depressed or tired affects how you beat the winter blues.

Acknowledge your feelings of depression and sadness. “Recent findings show that when we are able to identify and label how we feel, we activate other parts of the brain with very healthy and positive effects,” says Dr Pratt. “Science shows us that if you label your feelings and, ideally, express them to someone else, both your mood and your immune system benefit.”

Talk about how to make the winter blues go away with your friends and family. Ask for tips and ideas – because you’re not the only one who is struggling with SAD or seasonal depression.

Get enough B vitamins. Low levels of folic acid and vitamin B are connected to depression, though doctors haven’t nailed down the exact link. They do know that depressed people have lower levels of folate and vitamin B. Skim milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and eggs are high in B, and can stabilize emotions in winter. And, they’ll boost your immune system because they’re rich in folate and vitamin B.

Connect in real ways with other people. I’m not talking about making small talk at parties or with strangers. A natural tip for beating the winter blues is to make connections that renew your spirit and soul. This means different things to different people – but you could interact with people less fortunate than you, perhaps by volunteering at a shelter or hospital. Connect spiritually at your church or temple. Connect with nature by taking a walk through a park or along the coast. Look into your dog or cat’s eyes, and connect with on a soul level.

Get professional help to overcome serious winter depression. If you’re still feeling sad in spite of making efforts to improve your mood, or if you are losing sleep, feeling irritable or hopeless, or having trouble getting through daily activities, talk to a counselor or doctor. You may need therapy, medication or a combination of the two to light therapy to alleviate depression. Why live in a blue or gray funk if you don’t have to?

Train your brain to be positive. “If you focus too much on what’s wrong in your life, your brain can get stuck in a negative rut,” says Dr Pratt. “Fortunately, with just a little effort, you can condition your brain to balance your moods and overcome winter depression.” One way is to create a daily “gratitude list.” Every day, take a minute or two to make a conscious effort to name things in life you are grateful for: your family, dog or cat, warm bed, a hot shower, ocean waves, music, coffee, and so on. Every time you do it, you condition your brain for appreciation and happiness.

Consider light therapy or light boxes (SAD light therapy lamps). Light therapy involves relaxing for an hour with a light box or special light unit. A portable light therapy or SAD lamp has been shown to be effective in many people with Seasonal Affective Disorder, because it allows more light to be absorbed through the skin, which naturally improves mood.

You may not have Seasonal Affective Disorder, but if you have a mild case of the winter blues, you may lack light. Whether you use a light therapy lamp or not, try to get as much time in the sun as you can.

What do you think of these tip on how to beat the winter blues? Comments welcome below…

George Pratt, Ph.D., is the chair of the psychology department at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla.

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8 thoughts on “How to Beat the Winter Blues – From SAD Lamps to Brain Games”

  1. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    One of the best tips on for beating the winter blues is to go to Mexico! This year, we’re going on a cruise to somewhere with lots of heat and sunshine…that’s my version of a SAD light therapy lamp 🙂

  2. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    I just started taking Vitamin D two days ago — I went to a lecture on Healthy Aging given by a naturopathic doctor, and she said we should be taking 1,000 IU every day. Rain or shine! When I’m outside on sunny days, I’ll probably not bother…but Vitamin D is a must for our rainy, cloudy, dark overcast Vancouver winter days.

    Then, while I was getting my massage yesterday 🙂 , my massage therapist said she’s been taking Vitamin D daily for over 10 years. But she’s not concerned when she skips a day or two.

  3. I wish I’d found this in the fall! I’ve had S.A.D. since I was a child and only during the last two winters have I been diagnosed with a severe Vitamin D deficiency. Both times, mega doses of Vitamin D over 8 weeks helped a lot, but by the time we figured it out, I’d spent almost the entire winter in a funk! From now on I’m planning to start taking extra Vitamin D every fall when it’s time to change the clocks. 🙂

  4. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your comments, Jenn and Jess!

    I think some people are more prone to the winter blues and winter depression than others. It depends on how much natural serotonin your body makes (serotonin is a “feel good” hormone).

    One of my friends is very prone to winter depression, and he lives in Alberta — a sunny province! I didn’t think to suggest a light therapy box, though.

  5. Glad I came across this post. I never have this problem since I live in a warm climate year around but I’m currently up north for the holidays for several long weeks. It is a little depressing here, the weather that is and I think I might buy a light box for my parents for Christmas. I don’t know how they do it.

  6. I like that you opened w/ acknowlegment of feeling depressed. Whether your depressed, in financial trouble, are struggling w/ a relationship, it’s easy to be in denial and just carry on with a cloud over your head. Might be scary to confront depression, but knowledge is power, and acceptance is healing.

  7. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for taking the time to commment, Lizzie! I don’t think a light box is nerdy — it’s a lifesaver for some people who suffer from the winter blues.

    I like how you said B vitamins are your “homeboys”. Cute 🙂

  8. Winter is a tough season. I definitely think that these tips help, my stepdad has a lightbox, and as nerdy as it is…it definitely works for him. B Vitamins are my homeboys as well. Great post.