Beat the Winter Blues

Research estimates that 4 to 6 % of the population suffers from winter depression and another 10 to 20% experience what is often described as the winter blues—milder symptoms like lower energy, increased appetite, weight gain, and a strong urge to sleep late. Sound familiar? Daily exposure to bright midday sunlight is an ideal solution but living so far to the north makes it unlikely that people in Minnesota get adequate exposure naturally.

Light therapy, an accepted treatment for Seasonal Depression, uses special bright lights to mimic outdoor light and cause a biochemical change in the brain which may improve mood and increase energy. No need to look directly at the lights, just reading or studying for 15-30 minutes every day using the bright lights is effective in reducing symptoms of seasonal depression.

A bright light is available free for registered student use on campus. Conveniently located in the Health Education office, Room 100 in Carkoski Commons, the light is available M-F from 8am to noon. Call 507-389-5689 to schedule an appointment.

female student reading with bring light

Other Great Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

  • Exercise—It isn’t only for maintaining your weight and staying healthy! Exercise also helps your mind by releasing those “feel good chemicals” that improve mood.
  • Eat a Healthy Diet—Incorporate more complex carbohydrates (whole wheat breads, brown rice, veggies, fruit) and get adequate water. Healthy foods provide your body (and mind) with nutrients and stabilizes your blood sugar and energy levels.
  • Get Some Sun—Most people know that sunlight provides us with Vitamin D. But did you know that it also can improve your mood? Similar to exercise, sunlight exposure releases neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood.
  • Avoid Binge Drinking—Going to parties and drinking may seem like the only thing to do in the winter months; but alcohol is actually a depressant, and rather than improving your mood, it only makes it worse.
  • Treat Yourself—Having something to look forward to can keep anyone motivated. Plan something exciting: your mood improves when you’re anticipating it and when the event actually comes. How about a weekend trip, a girl’s night out, or sporting event?
  • Embrace the Season—Instead of always avoiding the cold and snow—look for the best that it has to offer! Go ice skating, snowboarding, or sledding. Enjoy these opportunities while they last—after all, they’re only here for a few months per year.
  • Get Social Support—Don’t underestimate the power of friends, family, co-workers, and roommates. Who can you turn to when you’re down and need a pick-me-up? Keep a mental list of these special people and ask for help or encouragement when you need it. Something as simple as a phone call, chat over coffee, or a nice text can brighten your mood.
  • Catch some Zzzz’s—People naturally want to sleep a little bit more during the winter. But with all we have going on, sometimes sleep is the first thing to go. Aim for 7-8 hours each night and try to keep your bedtime and waking time consistent.

Sometimes the winter blues aren’t “just the blues” but clinical depression or another mental health issue that needs proper treatment with help from a professional. Students at Minnesota State University, Mankato can seek help at Student Health Services Medical Clinic or the campus Counseling Center.