Tomorrow’s predicted temperature is 44°F. Personally, I find that temperature to be less than ideal. I will handle it though, because on Thursday the temperature is expected to bounce back into the 60s, which I find much more desirable.
This fall has blessed the Philadelphia area with what seems to be warmer than average temperatures. I have not hesitated to take advantage of it by walking to my destinations whenever possible and taking part in outdoor activities. I’m doing my best to be mindful of the warm weather now because, as my mother always says, I’d rather be warm than cold, but also because I am secretly dreading the annual case of the Winter Blues. It comes when the weather stays consistent at freezing temperatures and makes mindfulness a bit more difficult, as I am forced to wear a puffy winter coat and suffocating scarf while people in other parts of the world get to wear shorts and lay on the beach if they so please.
The Winter Blues is a commonly used expression for feeling down when the weather becomes cold enough to keep people feeling cooped up in their homes and distracted from mindfulness. It is also used casually as an alternate term for Subsyndromal Seasonal Affective Disorder, a milder form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (otherwise known as SAD). Symptoms include prolonged feelings of lethargy; intense fatigue; negative thoughts such as guilt; abnormal sleeping patterns; a craving and indulge in carbohydrates and sweets; and difficulty concentrating, remembering, and socializing. SAD affects a few million of American adults, and happens to be more susceptible in northern regions, particularly in women ages 18-30.
Subsyndromal SAD is a result of a chemical imbalance caused by lack of sunlight. Sunlight is difficult to catch between December and March. In the Northeast region of the United States, there are less than four hours of sunlight available those months outside of the typical nine to five workday – that is 1/6 of the day, which is not a long time.
There are natural treatments for people with Subsyndromal SAD. For those with the opportunity to spend a part of that 1/6 of the day outdoors, walking for about 30 minutes in sunlight is a great way to boost one’s mood, and get vitamin D. If walking is not possible, sitting near a window where sun shines through can also do just fine. Additionally, eating a balanced diet can contribute to an improved mood. While carbs and sweets can serve as comfort food, it is best not to binge on either of the two. Instead, be mindful of what is being put into your body, and try reaching for fruits, vegetables, or protein first. (Tips on combining mindful practices with both walking and eating can be found earlier in my blog!)
Another natural treatment with additional benefits is socialization. Socialization gives one the chance to create a sense of belonging in the world; by establishing connections with others that are satisfactory to you, the individual involved, a comforting feeling of belonging and purpose is developed. During the cold winter months, getting bundled up to trek in the cold can be an unpleasant hassle. However, it is important to make the effort with the goal of achieving happiness in oneself. Make simple plans with friends or family to go shopping, see a movie, get coffee, or wander around a museum – something that gets you into a different environment with a person you care about to spend a couple of mindful hours together. A great way to socialize with familiar faces and strangers is to volunteer through community service. With the holiday season quickly approaching, there is an abundance of opportunity to do good for others and oneself at the same time!
If natural treatments are not enough to combat the effects of SAD, that is okay! Another popular treatment for SAD is lamp or light box therapy. Bright light boxes or lamps can be purchased without a prescription for less than 50 dollars. Studies have shown that spending about 30 minutes under a box/lamp over the course of eight weeks bettered the moods of those diagnosed with SAD. Psychology Today contributor Christopher Bergland takes using a light lamp to the next level by using his time under it to practice mindful meditation (a basic breathing meditation can be found earlier in my blog, too.)
The above treatment suggestions have been proven to lessen the effects of SAD, but are by no means substitutes for true medical assistance. SAD can sometimes be a facet of a more serious depression or bipolar disorder. If SAD symptoms persist despite these natural treatments and throughout the year, contact your doctor for professional medical assistance.
Although winter has its beautiful moments – think snow days and the holiday season – it also has its debilitating cold that can potentially strip us of our mindfulness. The temperature will inevitably drop in the coming weeks, but that does not mean our mindfulness has to go with it. Remember to take care of yourself physically with exercise and balanced eating, and mentally with various mindful meditation practices. Both will lighten your mood and remind you to be mindful of the present moment as well as help to see the positive side of winter (because somewhere in the cold, it’s there).