With the arrival of winter comes dreary days, cold weather, early sundowns, and, unfortunately, a decrease in happiness. This is a symptom of the winter doldrums, or winter blues, which millions of people face with the onset of each winter.
The start of winter doldrums varies from person to person; some people experience symptoms in late August and others in late November. Winter doldrums are seasonal, as symptoms lessen with the beginning of spring. This is due to the decreased amount of sunlight that we receive in the winter, and additional factors such as geography, genetics, and brain chemistry. Though they affect most people mildly, there is a percentage of those who suffer from winter doldrums who are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which results in major depressive episodes every winter. “I think it is very important for the student body and faculty to be informed about this condition which is classified as a mood disorder,” says AP Psychology teacher Ms. Olga Sofman. Both SAD and winter doldrums are characterized by increased fatigue, larger appetite, and a greater desire for sleep. “Symptoms such as apathy, loss of interest, sadness and anxiety are hard to deal with on their own, not to mention when these are coupled with a normal workload of a student,” Sofman said.
If you do experience these symptoms during the winter season, there are a few ways that are scientifically supported to prevent or treat them. First, since the amount of time we are exposed to light is a huge factor in causing these symptoms, try to get as much light exposure as possible. Lack of sunlight causes the brain to produce more melatonin, which regulates sleep. Remedies include bright light therapy, which involves a light therapy box, a type of lamp that makes up for missing sunlight by emitting strong artificial light. Also, take advantage of light outside by taking walks or doing outdoor activities and increase the amount of light entering your home (i.e. drawing up the shades during the day).
“Lack of sunlight causes the brain to produce more melatonin, which regulates sleep.”
Additionally, scientists support the use of a negative ionizer, as it is shown that the presence of negative ions in the air is effective in improving one’s mood. This effect is evident near the seashore or after a spring thunderstorm, when negative ions are prevalent.
Health is another important factor in fighting the winter blues. During the winter, we’re more likely to coop up in our homes to avoid the harsh weather and as a result we get less of the nutrients we usually get from being outside (such as vitamin D, which we produce from the sun) and eat less healthily. A few solutions include getting these nutrients in the form of vitamins and avoiding heavy carbohydrates that spike blood sugar levels that can negatively affect your mood (instead, try fruits or foods high in protein and healthy fats). Socially, try to partake in more events, like joining a club or team at Bronx Science.
Other options include volunteering at community events in your area. “An important thing to remember is that you are most likely not the only one affected by this type of mood disorder,” Sofman advises. “Talking to friends, guidance counselors, parents, teachers and other people surrounding you is very helpful. Sharing how you feel with others will make you understand your condition better and might make you actually feel a bit better. Remember, humans are social animals.”
Whether you have recurring winter doldrums or the occasional mood drop, don’t be afraid to look for help. Bronx Science has many resources, as do your doctors and specialists.
So next time the cold weather makes you feel like being a homebody for the day, get up and enjoy the light outdoors while you can.