By Paula O’Campo, MSW, LPC
There’s winter, and then there are Minnesota winters. Winters that can be oh so cold and hard on the soul. With little sunlight and fewer opportunities to go outside and be active, it can be easy to overlook our mental health. Seasonal depression is common in the northern part of the United States, where sunlight is scarce, and winter weather hits especially hard.
So how will we survive this seemingly never-ending winter?
1. Get Some Sun!
Humans depend on the sun to regulate our moods, sleep cycles, and other essential mental and bodily functions. Sunlight also supplies us with vitamin D that we absorb through our skin to regulate our mood and sleep (Boulkrane et al., 2020). This is one of the reasons that taking a Vitamin D supplement is essential for many of us Minnesotans in the winter. Vitamin D deficiency is common in states that typically have a dark winter and can exasperate depression symptoms. One must first consult with their doctor or general practitioner before beginning any new vitamins or medications. Sunlight can be an excellent alternative to helping mood and overall sleep cycles (Postolache & Oren, 2005). Light therapy in the form of sun lamps can be an excellent alternative to mimicking the benefits of the sun. Sun lamps can help mood and balance sleep cycles by sitting in front of a sun lamp in the morning for anywhere from 15 – 20 minutes can make a big difference in helping us survive this hard winter.
Here’s an example of a Sun Lamp for light therapy.
2. Keep Your Body Moving
Besides maintaining an appropriate vitamin regimen, focusing on the body’s movement and keeping a consistent and effective daily schedule can do wonders to improve your mood. You don’t have to live at the gym to feel the positive effects that daily and consistent movement can have on the body (Carek et al., 2011). Whether it is a short daily walk outside, snowshoeing, or walking on the treadmill or stationary bike at home or the gym. Any movement can help the body begin to feel energized and awake. Keeping a consistent routine and schedule for your day can help lessen the difference in weather from summer to winter and help one process the change in seasons easier.
3. Build Community and Strengthen Connections
Taking the time to maintain and build connections and community with others helps us to get out of our bubbles and interact with others. We are meant to be social creatures with community and support. Winter is always easier when you don’t feel you are facing this alone.
4. Embracing and Reframing Winter
Although Minnesota winters can be long and hard, much beauty can be found during this season. Embracing the winter and enjoying this season can look different for many in our area. For some, embracing winter can look like taking on a new winter sport like snowboarding, snowshoeing, or skiing. For some, it can look like joining a new book club, learning to knit, or learning a new recipe. Winter is not just meant to be survived but experienced and lived through. Winter can be a great teacher. It can be a time for slowing down and learning to rest our minds and body. Like all of the seasons of life, winter is a season that is not meant to last forever. Just like winter has its time, spring will also come and join us in its time.
Paula O’Campo is a Licensed Professional Counselor at Lake Country Associates in Park Rapids, MN.
If you are experiencing symptoms of seasonal depression and would like to meet with a therapist, call Lake Country Associates at 218-366-9229 or send us a note. To access the Minnesota Crisis Text Line, text MN to 741741. To call the mobile crisis team, call 1-800-422-0045. If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, please visit your local hospital or call 911 right away.
Benefits of Vitamin D:
Boulkrane, M. S., Fedotova, J., Kolodyaznaya, V., Micale, V., Drago, F., van den Tol, A. J. M., & Baranenko, D. (2020). Vitamin D and Depression in Women: A Mini-review. Current neuropharmacology, 18(4), 288–300. https://doi.org/10.2174/1570159X17666191108111120
Benefits of Sun lamp and light therapy for seasonal depression:
Postolache, T. T., & Oren, D. A. (2005). Circadian phase shifting, alerting, and antidepressant effects of bright light treatment. Clinics in sports medicine, 24(2), 381–xii. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.csm.2004.12.005
Benefits of Exercise on Anxiety and Depression:
Carek, P. J., Laibstain, S. E., & Carek, S. M. (2011). Exercise for the treatment of depression and anxiety. International journal of psychiatry in medicine, 41(1), 15–28. https://doi.org/10.2190/PM.41.1.c