4 ways to beat the winter blues

Enduring the winter season is the greatest challenge of living in the Northern Hemisphere. The sun hangs low in the sky, it is dark upon awakening and sunset is long before bedtime. Most of us working in an office scarcely get to see the light of day. Because of this, many experience bouts of depression. According to WebMD, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects 3% of the population. However, many more people suffer a mild form of winter depression. Side effects can include loss of interest in normal activities, an increase in cravings for starchy foods or a decrease in appetite, unusual sleeping patterns, and frequent feelings of fatigue. If you are experiencing these symptoms, talk to your doctor. There are many solutions to help combat SAD and depression. Although most people do not have SAD, many often feel bleak during the dark, cold months of winter. Scientific studies prove that fewer hours of light exposure causes our brains to produce less serotonin, the mood-enhancing chemical. People with lower levels of serotonin experience more depression. Furthermore, sunlight helps our bodies produce vitamin D, a critical element for mental health. There’s a reason the winter blues are so prominent, we are not getting enough sunshine and are often trapped indoors getting less than the recommended amount of exercise. Here are a few solutions to help you stay positive and feel energetic when the days are short and the weather is gloomy.

Limit Sugar Intake

Sugar consumption has a direct relationship to mood and cognitive function; limited amounts of sugar produce a more stable disposition and increased focus, while high doses of sugar contribute to irritability and a decreased attention span. It is tough to say “no” to those delicious treats that deliver an immediate boost, but sugar crashing is a real issue for your brain. Sugary and high-starch foods deliver a rush of glucose to the bloodstream, activating the brain’s reward system that tells your body “more!” Sudden increases in glucose to the brain constrict blood vessels and actually impairs judgment. Students that took part in a study did significantly worse on a test after eating a high-sugar meal compared to those who ate a low-sugar meal.

Foods to avoid

Avoid foods that spike your blood sugar, like sweets, white flour, and sugary drinks. Frequent changes in your body’s glucose levels cause mood swings and decrease overall energy levels. Choose foods that take longer to digest, like whole grains and fruits. Also, try eating smaller, more frequent meals to maintain glucose levels rather than a few large meals that drastically increase blood sugar.

Exercise Regularly

Sure, you have heard this a hundred times, but science proves that exercise is the best way to beat mild to moderate depression. Force yourself into a routine that engages your entire body. It can be as simple as a few at-home exercises, or a dynamic training program. Find out what works for you. The most important thing to remember when planning an exercise routine is to choose something that you will maintain. Gym memberships are not for everyone, sometimes a 30-minute routine of pushups, situps, and other basic moves at home is sufficient. Just do it, your body and mind will thank you with more energy and a positive mood. If the day allows, get outside for a walk through the city. Greenwich Village is a hub for remarkable historical walking tours, offering food and music tours, ghost tours, and private tours. The Washington Square Hotels partners with a Greenwich Village historian to offer narrated tours. Walking is the easiest form of exercise and you might just get a glimpse of the sun

Mimic Benefits of the Sun

When bare skin is exposed to the sun it creates vitamin D, which is fundamental to numerous body functions. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to several types of cancer and diseases, weight gain, and depression. A study by Harvard Health suggests that 50% of Americans are vitamin D deficient, and the best way to combat the lack is by taking supplements. Experts recommend taking 800 to 1000 IU per day, and eating vitamin-rich foods like fatty fish, spinach, kale, collards, and fortified foods like dairy and orange juice. Lightboxes are an easy and beneficial way to mimic sunlight. Using this type of light therapy helps your body produce vitamin D, increasing energy and mood. Light therapy has been used since the early ‘80s to treat SAD, and is proven to work for those who routinely use it. Place a light box at your desk or near your bed. You can even use a plugin timer to turn it on in the morning when your alarm goes off, it makes getting out of bed much easier. Check out Top Ten Reviews’ website to find the best light therapy lamp for you.

Get Social

Perhaps one of the best ways to beat the blues is by exposing yourself to friendly environments. Certainly, staying alone indoors is no way to combat depression. A popular research article from 2013 shows that people who withdraw from social interaction are twice as likely to develop depression than those who are socially active. Loneliness causes depression, and likewise, depression can be the cause of loneliness. Even when you feel like being alone, avoid a routine of solitude. Boost your spirits by spending time with friends and family. Science proves that quality time with loved ones contributes to overall happiness. Break the mold by trying something new. Take a short get-a-way from home, visit the city and try new restaurants, or go to a show at Madison Square Garden. There are so many fun and exciting things to do in New York City. Taking the initiative to find healthy entertainment is another great solution for beating the winter blues.