The family has left, the Christmas cookies are lurking in the freezer, and summertime seems to be taking its sweet time returning from the other side of the globe. It’s not ‘tis the season to be jolly’ anymore, but rather, ‘the most sorrowful time of the year.’ For a quick solution, exercise, sun exposure, brain stimulation, volunteering, and perhaps a dog are five things that may help kick that crummy mood and seasonal depression to the curb.
1. Exercise, Exercise, and Exercise
A study by Lynette L. Craft, Ph.D. and Frank M. Perna, Ed.D., Ph.D. proves that any physical activity produces endorphins, which are the chemicals that help combat depression while releasing a euphoric feeling. Now, exercise isn’t limited to getting a gym membership and doing a daily exercise routine but can include anything from gardening to golf. Studies also show that exercise helps improve cognitive function, sleep, and self-esteem by increasing levels of energy and, therefore, better health. Fast walking, yoga, cycling, and bowling are just a few other ways to get that exercise in.
2. Sun exposure
According to Rachel Nall, RN, BSN, and CCRN, the right balance of sunlight can have a variety of mood-lifting benefits. When the retina is exposed to sunlight, serotonin is released from the brain. This “happy hormone” is known for helping a person stay alert, calm, and focused while its counterpart, melatonin, is released at nighttime and is known for helping a person fall asleep.
This is often why Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is more prevalent in the winter when the nights are longer and the days are shorter because of a decrease in levels of serotonin. To combat this, The World Health Organization recommends getting anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes of sunlight two to three times a week to enjoy the vitamin D-boosting effects.
3. Brain Stimulation
It’s nothing new that mental exercises such as Sudoku and crossword puzzles help keep our brains smart. Thinking faster, having a better memory, trying new things, having sharper vision, finding the correct words, improved self-confidence, and a being in a better mood are just a few of the benefits of having a fit brain. Prevention.com has some fun game suggestions to help keep that brain fit.
Social isolation is one of the key factors causing depression. HelpGuide.org says volunteering is a way to help create new connections and be in regular contact with others who can help form a support system. With these new-found friends, it is also easier to go out and do things to keep occupied during these long winter months.
5. Get a dog!
Nothing can be more of a stress relief than simply taking your furry friend for a walk. A dog’s love and loyalty are unsurpassed in offering positive support, companionship, and purpose. Harvard Medical School has discovered that caring for a dog helps increase exercise (another tip to beat that seasonal depression), provides companionship, reduces anxiety, adds structure and routine to a day, and provides stress relief. Working with animals has similar effects.
Alas, there is a ray of sunshine to combat that darkening decline as seasonal depression settles in for the winter. By adding regular exercise, some sun exposure, brain stimulating activities, volunteer outings, and a brisk walk with a furry friend, seasonal depression will be a vanquished thing of the past.
This article was previously published by the OC Register and republished here with permission.