Some people can’t wait to break out their scarves and boots when the fall season approaches. I can’t stand weather below 70-degrees Fahrenheit.
Some people are relieved to feel less pressure to maintain a “beach bod” with the onset of fall. Beach bod or not, I wish I could frolic in a swimsuit year round. Once it gets chilly outside, I have to psyche myself up to adorn multiple layers of clothing to brave the outdoors.
“But Allison, the onset of fall means it’s football season. What kind of American are you?” Look, I love watching football. I love tailgating. I love grilling out. I love making s’mores over a bonfire. I love skiing. I love snowboarding. (Actually, I haven’t yet tried to snowboard, but did that make me sound cool?) But seriously, I enjoy quintessentially American fall and winter activities. My mood baseline just tends to shift during those months. My homeostasis is off. It takes a bit more of a pep talk to get me out of my condo. (For the record, I can make some mean s’mores indoors.)
While others anticipate “pumpkin spice latte season,” I feel like it signifies an impending doom—winter.
I have not been diagnosed with winter seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but cold weather screws with me. It bums me out, and I’m not alone. According to WebMD,
The gloom caused by Mother Nature each winter in much of the country is biologically felt to some degree by an estimated one in four of us — usually starting around October and then magically ending by April with spring’s thaw.
Here are some symptoms experienced by those who experience degrees of “gloom” due to SAD, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Tiredness or low energy
- Problems getting along with other people
- Hypersensitivity to rejection
- Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
- Appetite changes, especially for foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
None of this sounds fun, right? I’m not a doctor, but I have come across and picked up a few tricks to help make the fall and winter seasons more bearable for people like me. I hope a combination of these pointers will help you make the most of the upcoming less sunny seasons of the year.
- Buy a couple versatile “statement pieces.”
The idea of strolling through midtown in 30-degree weather does not excite me. (I’m choosing to block out memories of doing exactly this in minimal clothing back in college.) Are you like me? Do you need extra motivation to “suit up and show up” mid-winter? Buy the sickest leather jacket and boots you’ve ever laid eyes on (or whatever kind of winter apparel you like the most). I might be overly comfortable while lounging on my couch in leggings and an old t-shirt, when a friend calls and wants to go out. If I recall I can easily slip on those cold weather statement pieces to seamlessly transform my still-comfortable attire, I’ll be more likely to bite the bullet and head out instead of stay cooped up.
Melatonin, which is often used as a sleep aid, is naturally produced in our bodies by the pineal gland. More melatonin is produced during darkness, therefore during winter months. A change in melatonin levels can alter your body’s natural rhythm. How can we address this? By stimulating the pineal gland via meditation to release melatonin. Meditation has been shown to be beneficial for everyone, especially those with symptoms of seasonal affective disorder: “In addition to stimulating the pineal gland and releasing melatonin, meditation effectively relaxes both the body and the mind. This relaxation leads to increased activity in the parts of the brain associated with happiness (specifically the left prefrontal cortex) and decrease activity in the parts of the brain associated with stress.” Give yourself a better chance of lifting the winter blues; practice meditation.
- Try light therapy.
You can purchase a “light box” or a “phototherapy lamp” to address sunlight deprivation. I cannot personally attest to the benefits of using one (because I haven’t tried it), but this method of addressing a cause of winter seasonal affective disorder is used often. The Mayo Clinic says, “A light therapy box mimics outdoor light. Researchers believe this type of light causes a chemical change in the brain that lifts your mood and eases other symptoms of SAD.” Why not spend 20-30 minutes near a lux source each day to increase your chances of experiencing a mood lift?
- Plan mini vacations.
You could look into a phototherapy lamp, or you could soak up some rays from the real thing—sunshine. (Or both!) Travel. Go. Fly south with the geese. Instead of taking one week out of the winter months to travel to a warm destination, here’s my suggestion: plan multiple mini vacations. Set aside a few Fridays or Mondays to give yourself some sun-soaked 3-day weekends. Use frequent flyer points. Drive eight hours to the beach. Grab a friend and a couple bus passes. Just do it once a month, give or take a week. This way your winter will be peppered with sunshine. You’ll feel less deprived. I can attest to that.
- Exercise, especially when you don’t want to.
In the summertime, I walk/run/bike outside and pound dirt on hiking trails as often as I can. The more sweaty the better. I try to keep up the habit as winter creeps in, but it inevitably falls off. I must remain active if I’m going to thrive in a world with cold seasons. I have to kick my own ass into gear if I don’t want to slink into the winter blues. Make it a point to exercise consistently. Find a gym. Chase your dogs around your house. Run up and down a heated stairwell. Borrow your dad’s recumbent bike. Or if you really want to kick winter in the teeth, buy some cold weather active gear and show the snow who’s boss. Though it may not seem like it now, you can survive a 30-minute jog in freezing temperatures. I’ve made it out unscathed on more than a few occasions. No one, not even Mother Nature, can hold us down, right?
- Participate in “cuffing season.”
Find someone you enjoy being around, whether you’re snowed in or out and about.
A chill begins to creep in as summer ends in September. Get a head start on prepping to fend off the symptoms of winter seasonal affective disorder. Start booking your 3-day weekends. Airlines tend to have specials for flights that must be booked several weeks in advance. Download a dating app. Start perusing or shopping for winter clothing, whether for statement pieces or athletic gear. Start reading an introductory book about meditation (like Success Through Stillness by Russell Simmons) or a book about seasonal affective disorder itself (like Winter Blues by Dr. Norman Rosenthal).
Heed this warning from the Mayo Clinic: “It’s normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed or if you feel hopeless, think about suicide, or turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation.”
Now go out there and get ready to show winter who’s boss!
Share your own tricks for shaking the winter blues with me on Twitter @MsAllisonLynn.