As the temperature continued to drop over the course of the last week, I felt my motivations to do everyday tasks dropping lower and lower. When it got colder and colder each day, I began to experience more body tension. I did not want to go outside, but I did not want to do my usual activities inside either. As this happened, I asked myself, “Is this normal?”
As it turns out, according to Psychology Today, Seasonal Affective Disorder causes millions of Americans to produce higher levels of melatonin in the winter, which causes lethargy, depression and other symptoms. They estimate that 10 to 20 percent of Americans have mild Seasonal Affective Disorder, while 10 million Americans have a more serious form of SAD. No doubt I’d heard of SAD before, but I had no idea it affected people in this capacity. Based on these statistics, millions of people probably experience Seasonal Affective Disorder undiagnosed and untreated, with no idea that they have it. One particularly interesting bit of information I found is that SAD impacts women four times as frequently as men.
If you are experiencing lower levels of energy, more cravings for food, difficulty sleeping or loss of interest throughout the winter, you may be one of the 10 to 20 percent of Americans who experiences mild SAD. To receive an official diagnosis for Seasonal Affective Disorder you would need to see a healthcare provider. They may recommend medications to treat this, such as antidepressants.
Whether you’re experiencing diagnosable SAD or just some mild winter blues, there are many things you can do to combat this, but it might not be through your default strategies. Many people naturally turn to Netflix and other television shows when they are experiencing a lack of motivation, as watching TV is easy to do even when you are feeling low energy. Many people believe that watching TV will boost their mood. However, watching television is actually shown to increase one’s feelings of lethargy, low motivation, physical and mental exhaustion and overall sadness. While watching TV in moderation throughout the year can be a harmless and enjoyable part of American culture, binge watching TV streaming services as a treatment for winter blues does quite the opposite of treatment – it actually makes these symptoms worse.
In response to my findings, I decided to try out some different strategies to see how my mood changed based on my mini-experiments. The first strategy I used to improve my mood was exercise. I exercise daily, but it was harder to motivate myself to exercise when it was freezing outside, and they also closed the campus recreation center when they canceled classes last Monday, which presented a challenge. I decided to use YouTube exercise videos instead of traveling to the gym, which turned out to be a great solution. When it is below zero and I walk outside, my muscles become tighter which means it takes longer for me to warm up for my workout. However, when I exercised inside my own residence hall room, I did not have to go through that extra effort to warm-up. Not only did the exercise improve my mood, it was also incredibly convenient! For my cardio, I went into the residence hall stairwell and ran up and down the stairs. It was different from my usual morning run, but in a really good way. Breaking this routine really helped me increase my energy levels and motivation.
The next strategy I wanted to try was experiencing a social gathering, but this is of course really challenging in the world of COVID-19. Thankfully, the dining centers just reopened this week due to low case numbers, so I invited my friend Hailey to grab lunch in Corbin/Olson Dining Center. We sat and talked for an hour and a half, and this also did wonders for improving my mood and motivation.
The final strategy I implemented was getting more light. Keeping my windows wide open for some natural light was really beneficial during these winter blues, and I remember relying on the natural light tremendously back in September when I had COVID-19, as the light helped me feel more connected to the world outside of my quarantine.
Although social situations and fun activities can be significantly more challenging due to the freezing temperatures and global pandemic, taking care of our mental health during this time is more important than ever. Take some time to turn off the TV and utilize some strategies that work well for you!