Guest article by Kimberly Hayes
With fewer hours of sunshine and colder days, life just generally slows down during the winter. Instead of your usual outdoor activities, you spend more time on the sofa, trying to stay warm. For some people, this can be a relaxing way to pass the time, hibernating like the trees and animals around us. For others, winter comes with a wave of sadness, one that is as hard to shake off as wet snow.
This oppressive feeling of hopelessness and sadness is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. For people with SAD, they struggle through the winter in ways they don’t during the other seasons. They might have less energy, find it difficult to focus, no longer enjoy activities they usually love, or experience changes in sleeping and eating. Many people misunderstand SAD, thinking it is a lesser form of depression, so they hesitate to seek treatment. However, in reality, it is a subcategory of major depression and should be addressed, especially if the symptoms are causing disruptions or limiting the quality of your life.
Fitness and SAD
Speaking to your doctor or a mental health professional is the best way to develop a treatment plan for SAD. However, in addition to those options, you can also consider making physical fitness more of a priority in the winter. Exercise can help reduce the impact of SAD by:
Generating stronger and longer feelings of excitement and enthusiasm
Chemically-boosting mood by increasing endorphins
Releasing stress and tension in the mind and body
Creating more energy that lasts throughout the day
Inspiring greater productivity and confidence
Improving sleep as the body needs to recover
If you think you might be impacted by SAD, here are a few exercises anyone can try on a daily or weekly basis to help you boost your mental health during the winter months.
You don’t need to venture out a yoga studio to enjoy the benefits. Due to the pandemic, many yoga instructors offer their services via online platforms like YouTube, allowing you to sharpen your skills in the comfort of your own home. This, of course, requires you to have space to practice yoga, which means you may have to make some adjustments. Once you’ve got your space set up, don’t forget to keep it organized and clean. Doing so will ditch the bad vibes and eliminate any stress and anxiety that clutter can cause.
Grab a Buddy to Fight SAD
Working out with a friend means someone else is relying on you for their own success. Letting your workouts stall not only limits your progress, but will also impact your friend’s progress. Talk with a friend — maybe someone else who deals with SAD — and sign up for a weekly yoga class, get a membership to the same gym or take a regular Sunday hike or bike ride together. Not only will establishing a regular habit help with your mental health, but the camaraderie and accountability will encourage you through the cold months.
Jog or Walk in the Morning
Exercising first thing in the morning can set your mind and body on a productive, energized path for the whole day. During the winter, the sun rises earlier, so you may even have some daylight for some — if not all — of your morning routine. It will be cold, so bundle up. Make sure your ears and hands are covered. And if you live in areas that get snow or ice, put traction cleats on your running shoes. Morning exercise is a powerful mood booster, metabolism enhancer and even improves posture too!
While the ultimate cause of SAD is unknown, there are a lot of internal and environmental factors that can contribute to the change in mood and behavior. If you or someone you love is at risk, try making physical activity a priority. A small change now can mean a big change later.
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To read more from Kimberly, visit Public Health Alert.