The shortest day of the year is upon us. Here's how to survive the next three months of dark, cold days, according to an expert on seasonal affective disorder.
Winter begins on December 21 in the Northern Hemisphere — that's the winter solstice and the darkest day of the year.
Psychologists say most of us don't have seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
But winter is still a time when many people feel down, and there are simple things you can do to help.
December 21 is the darkest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. People in New York will get just over 9 hours 15 minutes of sun, while in Anchorage, Alaska there will be fewer than 5 and a half hours of light. It’s the December solstice, and it officially heralds the start of winter.
Though the Earth is actually closer to the sun in December and January than it is in June or July, the sun is aimed more directly at the Southern Hemisphere during these months, which means days in the North are shorter and colder.
Most people get a little down in the winter — it's a time of year when depression rates spike. Although clinicians estimate that only 1-2% of the population suffers from the seasonally-induced depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), everyone can tend to feel a little less upbeat this time of year.
If you think you may have a diagnosable case of seasonal depression, it’s best to seek professional help. But here are some things that everyone can do to stay sane when it’s cold and dark.
Go for a walk first thing in the morning, just after sunrise.
"Take advantage of light first thing in the morning," psychologist and SAD expert Kelly Rohan told Business Insider.
Rohan studies cognitive behavioral therapy as a treatment for seasonal depression at the University of Vermont.
She said a 30 minute walk in the morning can be like a miracle drug for anyone feeling winter sadness. Getting fresh, natural light "should jump start your circadian clock," Rohan said, and is also a way to start the day with a dose of physical activity.
"Everyone can benefit from getting out into the light during the cold winter months," Rohan said.
Stay active and stick to your schedule.
The fact that it's dark and cold at the end of a work day isn't a good reason to ditch your gym routine.
"Don't do that!" Rohan said. "Make a real effort not to change your activities."
Researchers have pointed out time and time again that exercise a great natural antidote for depression and anxiety at any time of year. And Rohan embraces that logic — she walks four miles almost every morning, even when that requires extra layers to stay warm.
During the darker months, continue seeing people, making dates with friends, and keeping appointments. The Swedes deal with their 24-hour dark days by celebrating 'mys': their annual winter tradition of getting cozy, relaxing with friends, and eating delicious food.
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