6 Tips for Avoiding the Post-holiday Blahs
Christmas may be the season to be jolly, but the wintry days that follow can wreak havoc on your mood. Short days, gray skies, and chilly temperatures compound the natural letdown after the whirlwind of holiday parties and time spent with friends and family. And stepping back onto the scale after bingeing on sweets for weeks can prove a downer, too. But even in the darkest, gloomiest days of the year, you can improve your mood naturally with these simple (and fun) strategies.
Feeling SAD? According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 20% of American adults may experience some symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the winter months, including fatigue, listlessness, craving sugary or starchy foods, and a tendency to oversleep. For most people, the best way to cope with this winter-onset depression is with increased exposure to sunlight. Fortunately, winters in the West offer plenty of dry, sunny days perfect for hitting the trails and soaking up that mood-boosting glow.
1. Light it up. Fight back against late sunrises and 4:00 p.m. sunsets with a dose of depression-blasting rays. Light therapy boxes, such as the SunBox Sunlight Jr., offer the same wavelengths as natural sunlight in a portable lamp that’s easy to set up on your breakfast table or work desk. Therapy is most effective when done in the early morning; start with brief 15-minute sessions and work up to 30- or 60-minute sessions if needed. Make sure to set a schedule you can stick to. Skipping as few as two sessions can reduce the treatment’s effectiveness.
2. Give yourself an uplift…literally. Another well-supported treatment for SAD is exercise: specifically, regular cardio workouts. But why slog through yet another treadmill session when there are so many more appealing indoor options? Make a big stretch out of your comfort zone by trying an aerial arts class. You’ll literally fly through the air circus-style (don’t worry—safety harnesses are provided!) and improve your flexibility and core strength, all while having an awesome time. Invite a friend to join you, too. Research proves that people who exercise with friends enjoy physical activity more and are less likely to slack on their workout schedules.
In the Salt Lake City area, check out the offerings at Aerial Arts of Utah (aerialartsofutah.com). Start with a single class to get a feel for the moves, then move up to a 7-week session focusing on silks, trapeze, or AcroYoga.
3. Play in the sun. Want to fight post-holiday blues with a powerful combination of sunlight and exercise? Escape dreary skies with a race getaway in Southern Utah, where even short winter days are usually crisp and clear.
Mark your calendar for the Canyonlands Half Marathon and 5K on March 12. This race winds along 13.3 miles of Highway 128 outside of Moab, one of the most beautiful byways in the state.
Or, mix things up at St. George’s Road Race Duathlon, scheduled for February 27. Pick from the breezier Sprint course or the more intense Olympic course—each sandwiches a 10- or 20-mile bike ride between 1.5- or 3-mile running segments.
4. Snow day? “Snow” problem. Even cloudy or snowy days don’t need to interfere with your mood-boosting outdoor fun. Strap on your snowshoes and head to Squaw Peak for the Kahtoola Bigfoot Snowshoe Festival on January 30. Featuring the only snowshoe ultramarathon in the United States, this US Snowshoe Association Championship-qualifying event also includes shorter stretches for less hardcore athletes.
Miss the thrill of speeding downhill? Let a little air out of your tires (29-inchers recommended) and take your bike to the slopes, or rent a fatbike from a local shop like Jans Mountain Outfitters (jans.com). Ski areas in Round Valley, Beaver Creek, and other areas welcome cyclists to their groomed trails. Just stick to the edges of the groomed areas and be sure to yield to slower trail users.
5. Get a diet makeover. Low levels of folate and Vitamin D, two essential trace nutrients, have been linked to winter-onset depression. Boost your intake of both by increasing your consumption of fortified whole-grain products, dairy foods, egg yolks, and seafood. You may also try supplementing with SAMe, a chemical that occurs naturally in the body and that has been shown to help support healthy mood and fight symptoms of seasonal depression.
6. Know when to go pro. If your post-holiday funk stretches past Valentine’s Day, consider seeking professional treatment. Your primary care physician can refer you to a therapist with specific SAD experience. But for most people experiencing normal post-holiday, winter-onset blues, sunshine, exercise, and spending time outdoors with friends is the only prescription you’ll need to get your mood back on track.