• Phyllis Prestamo

The Winter Doldrums

I am definitely a creature of the light and have always had a hard time waking in the winter, as my body waits for the sun to rise. Couple that with some cold dreary days here in the Northeast and my mind and body hit the doldrums. My online dictionary defines the doldrums as "a state of inactivity or stagnation" and that is how I often feel in January and it usually continues into February. For me I force myself to be productive and keep to my regular schedule, but for others this feeling can become more extreme and leave a person feeling depressed. Scientists have studied light and its relation to depression and have found that the less sunlight we see in the winter months, the more likely we are to develop Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

The NHS.UK has 5 energy-giving solutions that may help:

  1. Let in some sunlight - As the days grow shorter, your sleep and waking cycles may become disrupted. The lack of sunlight means your brain produces more of a hormone called melatonin, which makes you sleepy. HINT: Open your blinds or curtains as soon as you get up to let more sunshine into your home and get outdoors in natural daylight as much as possible.

  2. Get a good night's sleep - Getting enough undisturbed sleep is vital for fighting off the winter doldrums. It's tempting to go into hibernation mode when winter hits, but that sleepy feeling doesn't mean you should snooze for longer. In fact, if you sleep too much, chances are you'll feel even more sluggish during the day. We don't actually need any more sleep in the winter than in the summer, so aim for about eight hours a night and try to go to bed and wake at the same time every day. Make sure your bedroom helps you feel relaxed and sleepy: clear the clutter, have comfortable and warm bedding, and limit screen time.

  3. Get regular exercise - Exercise may be the last thing you want to do when you're feeling tired on dark winter days, but you might be surprised by how energetic you feel after getting involved in some kind of physical activity every day. Aim for the recommended 150 minutes of exercise each week. Winter time can be a great time to experiment with something new: book a yoga class, try indoor sports or check out a Zumba class. It may be tough to get yourself motivated to exercise, but focus on the positives and it might also help with winter weight gain.

  4. Learn to relax - Are you feeling pressured to get everything done in the shortened days? If so, this stress can contribute to your sluggishness. Many people find adding meditation, yoga, breathing exercises or mindfulness techniques into their day helps them to calm down and feel more relaxed.

  5. Eat the right food - It's important to make sure you eat a healthy, balanced diet. Once the summer ends, there's a temptation to ditch the salads and fill up on warm, starchy comfort foods like pasta, potatoes and bread. And my sweet tooth goes into overdrive in the winter. All these foods can give you a rush of energy, but we all know that wears off quickly.

While it's normal for all of us to slow down over the winter, there are however some medical conditions that could be causing your tiredness and shouldn't be ignored.

  • Sometimes a lack of energy and enthusiasm (lethargy) can be a sign of real winter depression SAD, as mentioned above. It affects about 1 in 15 people and can be treated by a physician.

  • If your tiredness is severe and seems to be present all year round, you could have chronic fatigue syndrome, another treatable condition.

  • Your tiredness could also be a sign of anemia or some sort of infection and bloodwork ordered by your doctor may help rule this out.

If your winter doldrums are preventing you from going about your normal life or they seem to linger on for a long time, you should talk to your doctor. But if you are like me, make an effort to get out and about and think spring ---March 19th is just around the corner after all and each day is thankfully getting longer.

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