By April Hussar, SELF magazine
Good news for those of us who feel like getting in bed at about, oh, say 6 p.m. these days because it's already been dark for more than an hour: We have less than a month to go until the official shortest day of this year, December 22!
The bad news -- we have almost a whole month to go before the days start getting longer again. Sigh. If you're one of the millions of people who start feeling blue during these short dark days (and loooong dark nights), allow us to brighten things up...
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Dr. Stephen Josephson, a cognitive behavioral psychologist and Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell in New York City, explained to us exactly what's going on with these dreary feelings and how we can combat them.
So why do we get the "winter blues" in the first place? Is it purely psychological? Why no, it is not. According to Josephson, we feel sleepy because we ARE -- the lack of sunlight promotes the production of melatonin, a hormone that facilitates sleepiness, secreted by the pineal gland in our brain.
"So, it's less that the dark depresses us and more that the absence of light affects us," he explains. "Light is a stimulating agent."
I for one am glad to know it's not just "in my head," and there's a biological factor at work here. But how do we know if we just have garden variety winter blues and not something more serious and potentially dangerous, like full-blown Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
"You should consider the severity of SAD as a function of its consequences," says Josephson. In other words, if you're having a tough time getting up in the morning and functioning intellectually, if you're eating a lot more, gaining weight or otherwise experiencing a decrease in functioning, then you should talk to a mental health professional.
To fight off less severe (but still depressing) SAD feelings, Josephson recommends the following:
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1. Get outside as much as possible. Take advantage of the light when you can. Even a quick walk around the block on your lunch break can make a difference. (I know from experience that making a date with a friend to go for a run or a walk makes it much more likely that it will actually happen.)
2. Stay active and make sure you get plenty of exercise. That's right -- up and at 'em! Though it's tempting to curl up under a comforter on the couch (for three months), "Don't give in," Josephson says. "In other words, continue to be active and don't believe all the negative thoughts you have."
3. Consider light therapy. "Light therapy units are widely available and can be enormously helpful as well," says Josephson. He recommends spending 30 minutes basking in the glow of a 10,000 LUX unit (here's a good one) in the morning, sometimes for a little longer, saying it will be "profoundly energizing."
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Photo Credit: Condé Nast Digital Studio
By April Hussar, SELF magazine