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Now that the holidays have passed, the bright lights are packed away and a new year is gearing up (hello, 2021!) we’re left with cold temperatures, grey skies, and the possibility of a few more months of social distancing. Blah!

Winter blahs are common even without a global pandemic and being confined to home for almost a year – those conditions would be depressing for anyone! But if the shorter days and lonely conditions are getting to you, consider changing up your routine before seasonal depression becomes a more serious issue. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a recurrent seasonal depression that affects about 3% of the general population but up to 25% of those diagnosed with other depressive disorders. SAD affects four times as many women as men, so ladies: it’s time for a mental check-in. Are you embracing your hygge, hot tea and cosy sweaters? Or has the season taken a higher toll that needs to be addressed?

If it’s the latter, here are four strategies to boost your mood until the sun comes back. And of course, if your spirits are so low that your thoughts have turned to hopelessness or self-harm, seek help right away through New York’s resources for suicide prevention.

  • Light therapy – one way to reset your brain is through light therapy, usually achieved through the use of a light box in latitudes like ours where the sun is not strong enough to stimulate Vitamin D production in winter. Light boxes are full spectrum lights that mimic the sun (which is important because sun exposure is what prompts our bodies to manufacture Vitamin D). If you purchase a light box, try sitting with it for 30 minutes to an hour each day, which can be easily achieved if you work from home – just prop the light box near your work station. Some studies have found that this is most effective when used early in the day.
  • Diet / Vitamin D Supplementation – Another way to get more Vitamin D into your system is through supplementation, up to 10,000 international units per day from a reputable source. Some who experience digestive challenges do better with Vitamin D in a liquid form or combined with Vitamin K, which can aid in absorption. Food sources of Vitamin D include egg yolks, red meat, oily fish such as salmon and sardines, and liver.
  • Activity – For most, exercise is a major mood booster. Consider adding a winter activity like skiing, snowshoeing, or simply becoming more conscientious about getting out and about (for example, scheduling short walks to break up your day of zoom calls if you’re working from home). This is another way to build in sun exposure, although not enough skin is exposed this time of year to make a major impact on Vitamin D production. Remember the old saying – there is no bad weather, just bad clothing! Bundle up and enjoy a change of scenery.
  • Acupuncture, Moxabustion and Herbs – Acupuncture has been found to be effective in improving the symptoms of depression, especially when combined with help from a mental health professional. Moxabustion – a prepared form of artemisia that is usually burned on or near acupuncture points to enhance their efficacy – can offer an energy boost when appropriately prescribed, and herbal preparations can be customized to fit your individual signs and symptoms.

In short, get outside, get moving and try acupuncture! Questions? Leave them in the comments or shoot me an email.

– Dr Duffy