The beginning of the year, and holding steady till March in the Midwest, we are settling into the coldest, greyest time of year. Even as tough mid-westerners, these dark days can cause the winter blues to set in. Compared to a national ranking of the sunniest cities, Omaha residents spend about a third of each year under grey, sunless skies. The sun plays an important role in our natural body rhythm; therefore as days get shorter and darker many experience depressed moods and lower energy levels. Another 5-10% of the American population experiences a depressive condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). More common in women than men, symptoms may include irritability, poor concentration, sleep disturbances, changes in eating patterns, headaches, fatigue, and sadness. Let’s not forget that children may experience some of these symptoms as well, which also may include increased tantrums and avoidance of normal activities.
Unfortunately, life is too full to hibernate until the sun comes out again, so what can we do? Those New Year’s resolutions you have been working hard to get in place can have a key role in prevention such as eating healthier and exercising more. However, at the same time, trying to take on new healthy habits this time of year can result in more frustration and a sense of failure if fatigue or lethargy interfere with your success.
To really beat the blues, the first step is to acknowledge that you may be being affected. If you do not feel like yourself during this time of year, it is most likely environmental and not something wrong with you. Instead of being hard on yourself, make a plan to manage your mood. Being aware that these feeling are coming and having a plan in place ahead of time, can help you both beat the blues and achieve your New Year’s resolutions.
For an ideal plan, include these five tips:
1) Seek the sun. Doctors typically recommend 10-15 minutes of sunlight exposure to your hands and face every day. This will boost Vitamin D levels improving your mood. Brave the cold or enjoy a good book by a sunny window.
2) Exercise. Staying committed to an exercise plan, whether indoor or outdoor, releases mood lifting endorphins that will help keep a cheerful demeanor in place. Also, try ice-skating as a family once a week, or go sledding and enjoy the snow.
3) Turn off the TV. Extra screen time will lead to extra laziness. Health professionals recommend no more than two hours of screen time each day. Set timers for kids and move to a different indoor activity once it beeps.
4) Maintain sleep schedules. A regular schedule will help maintain a normal body rhythm keeping you in your groove.
5) Play with your kids. Break out the art supplies for an afternoon of crafting, or build a living room fort for active play followed by restful reading. Encourage creative indoor play that stimulates both you and your kids.
If your attempts at managing your mood are still falling a bit short, research shows extra Vitamin D3 in supplement form may help decrease the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Normal sun exposure converts Vitamin D into its active form releasing it to go to work in our bodies. Even though dairy products are fortified with Vitamin D, and we get some through certain kinds of fish, the recommended daily allowance is difficult to achieve through diet alone. Therefore, when sunlight exposure is decreased, Vitamin D deficiency is more common. The recommended daily allowance is 600 IUs, but many medical experts are recommending between 2000-4000 IUs daily as a safe amount to help fight off symptoms of SAD.
Self-awareness and having a plan in place that includes exercise, a healthy diet, and some regular family routines, will keep you on top of the winter blues. Managing your mood will allow you to start the New Year the way you want to: fresher, more focused, and optimistic of what this coming year will bring for you and your family.
Niki Kubiak, RD, CSSD is the Director of Nutrition and Health at Infinite Sports World (ISW). Learn more about ISW at www.infinitesportsworld.com.