November 3rd marks the date we adjust our clocks back one hour…and many Western New Yorkers say goodbye to that extra hour of daylight with dread. If you’re one who has trouble mustering the energy to do any more after work in the winter than perch on your couch for a binge watch, and the comfort foods can’t get delivered to your door fast enough, you’re not alone.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), or Seasonal Depression, is not all in your head: Winter’s reduced daylight hours alter our body’s circadian rhythms and can wreak havoc with other functions that are dependent on them, such as production of serotonin and melatonin, which regulate mood and sleep.
Give yourself a running head start against S.A.D’s potential impact—by December, you may already be in the throes of it. Here’s a few ways to set yourself up to stay happy and engaged over the coming months.
Is Vitamin D the answer?
With just minutes of daily exposure to sunlight, the body naturally synthesizes its own Vitamin D. It’s logical to conclude our lack of exposure in the winter would have a negative effect on our D production. But how is Vitamin D linked to mood and depression? The answer: inconclusively. All of the studies to date have not produced a consistent correlation or effective dosage. Dr. Steven Dubovsky, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University at Buffalo, advises we should err on the side of keeping our supplement money in our wallets.
Get a head start on resolutions
Instead of waiting for Jan. 1st, make a serious commitment to eat cleaner now. Don’t think of it as a diet but as a necessary tool for managing winter depression. Reducing sugar intake is a given: It floods the bloodstream causing an overproduction of insulin, which leads to a mood crash later. Energy drinks and coffee consumption should be severely curtailed since they have a similar effect on the body.
But you already knew that, right? Here’s something new. A 2002 UCLA study showed that our typical Westernized, high-fat and sugar diet interferes with the production of a brain protein called BDNF, whose presence is a correlating factor in how quickly neurotransmitters (such as serotonin) fire off. A junk food diet literally makes you sluggish
As an added bonus of enacting healthier habits now, you’ll be months ahead of everyone else at the gym when January rolls around.
Run to the light
It may look a little whacky, but there are artificial light boxes you can buy that attempt to simulate daylight. They come in sizes as big as your bathroom mirror or as small as your iPad screen. The size doesn’t matter, but the light does: Look for ones where the label specifies “10,000 lux in intensity.”
Don’t stare directly at it, but rather be within range of the box so that the light hits the back of your retinas through your eyes. Dr. Dubovsky recommends sitting for 30 minutes in front of a happy light, as they’re aptly nicknamed, each morning.
Avoid the homebody trap
Don’t just join a gym, join a league. Get involved in an activity where people depend on you to be there and will notice and miss you when you’re not.
The official game of Buffalo—bowling, of course—is a perfect example. It’s easy, inexpensive, fun and more about the connections and camaraderie than actual skill level. Most leagues meet once a week, but the desire to practice and the group social outings will fill up your calendar before the winter doldrums have had a chance to take hold.