With cold, short days and one stress-filled holiday after another it’s no wonder that many people struggle with depression during the autumn and winter months. Combine this with the frustration and disappointment that can come along with struggling to meet your fitness goal during this part of the year and things are that much harder. These common bouts of depression that many people face are called frequently the “winter blues.”
For about six percent of the American population, though, things can take a much more serious turn and result in a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Triggered by all seasonal shifts, SAD can occur at any point in the year. In the case of winter-onset SAD symptoms might include depression, anxiety, oversleeping and weight gain. Interestingly, summer-onset SAD exhibit almost completely opposing symptoms like irritability, insomnia, weight loss and an abnormally increased sex drive. In either situation, the depression can be deep enough to cause suicidal thoughts.
Regardless of what form your seasonal depression takes, it’s important that you consult a doctor to determine the best course of treatment. The exact cause of SAD isn’t fully understood and proper treatment may require prescription medication. However, there is significant evidence that small changes in your diet and exercise routine could help you get through the trying winter months.
The Right Type of Exercise
Since seasonal depression can result in decreased energy levels and the cold weather will make getting outside challenging, it’s easy for your fitness program to be interrupted. This could only worsen your depression so it’s important to stay active.
The American Council on Exercise recommends increasing your activity levels by thinking outside of the box a little. This means adding things to your day besides conventional exercise and looking for little things to change in your routine. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, take short walk-breaks and avoid shortcuts.
Since all exercise stimulates the release of several endorphins which will help you regulate your appetite, sleep better and feel less stressed, increasing your activity level will help fight off depression. Exercising outside, though, has the additional benefit of exposing you to sunlight which will increase your levels of serotonin and melatonin. Both of these neurotransmitters help to maintain a healthy mood balance.
While all exercise will have these mood-boosting effects, it seems like cardiovascular exercise and mindful exercise modes like yoga are especially useful. These types of exercise place a strong focus on breath-control and have been shown to be extremely effective at reducing stress.
As is often the case in the fitness realm, your thought patterns can have a powerful effect on your ability to maintain your workout schedule despite SAD or winter blues.
To that end, look for ways to keep yourself motivated. Remembering your past successes will help to reassure you of your ability to overcome the challenges you’re currently facing. Joining a class or involving yourself in some other support system will also give you invaluable motivation.
Learning to enjoy winter sports will also give you something to look forward to when the leaves start to change and snow starts to fall. A close friend of mine dreaded the winters when she first moved to Alaska. That is, before she learned how to cross-country ski. Now she gets excited at the first snow since she can finally going skiing after waiting all year.
Our next post will discuss foods and supplements that you can add to your arsenal to fight off the winter blues!
Have you manage to stay active during the colder months and stave off depression? Please share your experiences with us in the comments!