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Seasonal Blues: It’s That Time of Year Again

By Dr. Renae Norton

The holiday is over, the bills are coming in, everyone went back home, and you are either going back to school or back to work. Blah.  But worst of all, it’s dark when you get up and it’s dark when you go to bed.

What is it really about the dark mornings and evenings that make this time of year so difficult? You have probably heard of seasonal affective disorder, in which people become depressed and are treated with light therapy. So we know the light is a thing. But there is some interesting data to suggest that it’s more about the way we interpret the gloomy days than it is about the lack of light.  In other words, if we change the way we think about the dismal winter weather, we may change the way we feel about it and get through it with less depression and anxiety. Wouldn’t that be nice?

For example, Scandinavians are some of the happiest people in the world despite the fact that they have one of the longest and most dismal winter seasons. It’s true. Scandinavians survive some of the darkest, coldest days on earth. Winter in Scandinavia, which includes Denmark, Norway, and Sweden – often lasts from November through April. Yet despite the long and very dark winter, these countries regularly rank as some of the happiest in the world.

What’s the Scandinavian secret to surviving long, cold, dark winters and still staying happy? They call it Hygge (pronounced Hug-guh.) In a nutshell, it reminds people to celebrate living, seek out simple pleasures, and find comfort in connecting with others. We need some of that!

Living the hygge way can mean spending time snuggled up with friends around a roaring fire while laughing and sharing stories late into the night. Or it can mean enjoying a simple, homemade soup with your family, in a candle-lit room brimming with happy conversation.

The people of Scandinavia are also very active winter sports enthusiasts. So they take advantage of the snow by sledding, skiing, ice-skating, etc. In other words, individuals in Scandinavian countries take advantage of the winter weather to congregate and connect and to stay active. 

They also use a technique in applying Hygge that I use to help patients overcome anxiety and depression. I teach my patients that words have power and depending upon the words they use, they can bring on either positive or negative feelings. This is awesome in as much as we have complete control of the words we use. If we use a negative word we will experience negative feelings. If we use neutral words we will experience neutral or even positive feelings. 

Try it. If you say to yourself “It is so gray and ugly out” make note of the feelings you have when you make that statement. It may be sadness, depression, or anxiety. If, on the other hand, you say to yourself “It is cozy and warm in here.” The feelings you have maybe comfort and peace.

In the U.S., one in five adults experiences a significant mood change once winter rolls in. This change is known as either seasonal affective disorder (“SAD”), or as the less severe winter blues. The good news is that there are many things we can do in addition to changing the way we think that actually do help with SADS and winter blues.

Our brains make four hormones that directly impact our levels of happiness. They’re known as the “happy hormones.” These hormones are dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. In general, one of the best ways to emulate these hormones is through activity. For example, yoga stimulates dopamine, exercise stimulates serotonin and endorphins, and connecting with loved ones stimulates oxytocin.

If we allow these hormone levels to get too low we don’t have the energy we need to stimulate them so it becomes a vicious cycle. The solution is to stay active and engaged with loved ones even when it is hard to do. I personally have a much harder time going to the gym at 6 a.m. when it’s dark than I do going to the gym at 6 a.m. when the sun is rising. That said, I know I have to go to the gym and I’m much more likely to go first thing in the morning so I suck it up and go lol. 

But I have to use positive words when I am getting dressed or I’ll talk myself out of it, such as “It will be warm and bright inside the gym.” or “It will feel good to work up a sweat on a morning as cold as this is.”

That’s what helps me, what positive words can you come up with to get you moving? The point is just to make sure you get moving every day to increase your happy hormones and stop those winter blues.



Interested in Wellness Coaching or Nutritional Guidance?

Dr. Renae Norton specializes in the treatment of eating disorders. Located in Cincinnati, Ohio. Call 513-205-6543 to schedule an appointment or fill out our online contact form for someone to call you to discuss your concerns. Tele-therapy sessions available. Individual and family sessions also available.

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