Everyone (living in the Northern hemisphere) has been subject to the winter blues at least once in their lives. Whether you were just bumped for a day that it was too cold to do what you wanted to do, or you were depressed in bed because of the weather outside, we all know how sad the dark, cold winter days can make us. Unfortunately, some of us experience the winter more negatively than others, and many suffer from seasonal affective disorder, more commonly known as winter depression.
The closer you get to the Arctic Circle, the colder and darker it gets during the winter. In my recent trip to Alaska, I asked the locals on how they survived the winter. Because there is cold, and then there is Alaska cold. In the winter, temperatures easily drop to -60°F (-51°C). Sometimes, the sun comes out for not more than 4 hours a day. On top of that, many Alaskans live in rural areas, with nothing surrounding them for miles. They are basically alone, in the cold, and in the dark.
Yet, they always find a way to survive. To keep going, to enjoy life. Is it easy for them? Absolutely not. But are they willing to do all it takes to stay happy in during those dark, gloomy days? Heck yeah!
So what can we learn from our Alaskan friends? We could, like all the bears up there, hibernate for an entire winter, but since we can’t sleep for such a long time, we would probably end up depressed after a week or two (and most likely lose our jobs).
So what exactly is seasonal affective disorder? Technically it is depression caused by a mix of vitamin D deficiency resulting from a lack of sunlight with a lack of energy and sleeping too much (we’re not bears y’all). People suffering from winter depression tend to be more sensitive to the lack of light than others, and tend to feel better when exposed to bright light.
But fear not, if the Alaskans have found ways to deal with seasonal affective disorder, so can we! Furthermore, it’s a disorder that leaves your body when the sun comes back, so it should already lighten your day to know that this won’t be a year-round thing. The locals of Alaska have found that 4 particular methods to stay warm and happy work better than any other:
1. Consuming Insane Amounts of Vitamin C
Yes, time to stock up on the supplements. Alaskans easily consume up to 2000 units of vitamin D. The lack of sunlight results in vitamin C deficiency, and many Alaskans get their blood tested in the winter to make sure they are not lacking anything. Aside from vitamin D supplements, a lot of people also consume high doses of codliver oil, as it has been proven that eating a lot of fish reduces chances of suffering from winter depression. Fish oil is equally important in their diet. It contains a lot of Omega 3 and vitamin D that your body needs during those winter months. Start early by taking daily supplements everyday around the end of October.
2. Sweat it out
Time to hit up the gym! According to Alaskan locals, physical exercise is a MUST during the winter. They don’t allow the cold and the dark as an excuse to not sweat. Not only will the motivation to go to the gym or work out in general increase your mental strength and mood, the exercise is needed for you to increase your levels of energy by increasing your metabolism (the more you play couch potato, the faster you can get affected by winter depression). The flood of endorphins will increase your general happiness, and maybe even make you beach-body ready for the upcoming summer!
3. Opt outside
I know, why would you go out when even hell has frozen over? Why would you get out of your cozy warm blanket and leave your hot cup of cocoa, to have your fingers turn purple from the cold? Well, to catch that small amount of daily sunlight of course! Midday sunlight provides the necessary amount of vitamin D to boost the emotional part of your brain. Alaskans try to plan their day around the sunlight hours, so they can go outside for a walk during the day or during their lunch break and take in all the sunlight they can. Getting out of the office not only provides them with natural light, but forces them to move away from the chair they spend most of their day sitting on. Plus, as I explained above, spending too much time indoors can increase depression dramatically. According to the locals, the best way to enjoy being outside in the cold is by finding an activity that you can enjoy regardless of the temperature. In Alaska, many outside activities are offered in the winter as a way to push people to go outside during daylight hours. They offer skiing, dog sledding, winter carnivals, glacier hiking, sled dog races, snowmobiling, and even igloo-building. Others offer weekly dinner meals and coffee shops meetups, as a means to get out of the house and reunite with friends.
4. Bright Light Therapy
This type of therapy involves spending some time in front of a fluorescent light box which provides a strong 10,000 lux. Exposing oneself in front of such a light for even 15-20 minutes a day can strongly decrease effects of seasonal affective disorder. Alaskans call it the ‘happy light’ and use it a lot in those days where natural sunlight is most limited. The National Institutes of Health has promoted bright light therapy as one of the first treatments to be used to combat winter depression. It’s according to them important to spend a good amount of time every day in front of a light box for several weeks in order to witness any results. If possible, spend some time every day with your light box in front of a window, at your office or in your home.
5. Migrate South
Ok I know, this is definitely not the cheapest option, and for some people this might not work out, but if you can, travel south. Many Alaskans take their vacations in the winter and escape to the U.S. mainland or more tropical destinations. The state of Alaska offers way too much in the summer for Alaskan locals to escape at that time. Additionally, this breaks up their winter a little bit and gives them access to warmer weather and more importantly, to sunlight. Traveling south during the cold, dark winter months not only helps your vitamin D intake, it also makes you look forward to your vacation and instantly boosts your mood and happiness up.