It is estimated that about 10 million Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and another 30-60 million experience the “winter blues”, or more mild symptoms of SAD. Not to pick on winter, because you actually can have summer SAD. As a former Chicagoan, though, I think I’m more likely to see a leprechaun than someone who isn’t maniacally happy in the summer.
In all seriousness, it is easy to understand why SAD happens in winter. We lose the sun, warmth, daylight, and time outside. Common recommendations include focusing on your diet, exercise and even using UV light therapy to help fight the blues. Funny how that works – the things you need are the least accessible this time of year. Like dropping a bear in the desert and telling him or her to ward off hunger by finding fish.
Researchers have done extensive studies on the brain and body to try and understand what chemicals make us feel good, such as dopamine and serotonin. As well as what thoughts or actions trigger the production and release of those chemicals.
It turns out you there are several things you can proactively do to create a better head space for yourself, beyond running (physically running) to a warmer climate and eating your vegetables. Here are some out-of-the-box remedies to help you keep your smile going well into 2019.
- Goal Achievement: Feelings of achievement cause your brain to release dopamine. Whether this is a major or pre-defined goal, like a New Year’s resolution, or something subtle that you accomplished on the fly. Examples:
- Learn to play an instrument, or even just a little ditty
- Learn a new language
- Build a piece of furniture from scratch
- Not eating that bowl of ice cream before bed, and taking time to pat yourself on the back when you don’t give in
- Novelty: This is like sending a little shock wave to your brain by stimulating it with something new, or novel, which also releases dopamine. Seek out the unexpected and surprise your mind.
- Take a salsa dance class with a friend/partner, or be really wacky and go solo to enjoy the company of a stranger
- Try aerial yoga
- Go to a restaurant you’ve never been to, and order something you’ve never eaten
- Happy Memories: Not just reliving the past, but making new happies for the memory bank. Dwelling on good times creates serotonin, so keep the good times rolling!
- Instead of buying holiday gifts online, create a handmade gift for a friend and give them something worth remembering
- Doing anything fun with your loved ones, avoiding solitude
4. Gratitude: Finding things everyday to be thankful for. People, experiences, surroundings. Focusing on the things we appreciate rather than the things that bother or weigh on us.
Ideas like this are not out of reach, opportunities are ample in our community to make life more interesting. But it does take conscious thought and it does take commitment. You’ve heard the expression, the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence (next summer), it is green where you water it (here, now). Don’t hibernate this winter, get out and thrive.