The days are short. The weather is dreary. And now that the holidays are over, you probably won't see a lot of your friends or family members for months.
If all that has you feeling a little down in the dumps, you're not alone; depressive symptoms tend to peak in the winter months, finds a recent study from four U.S. universities. There are numerous explanations for wintertime seasonal affective disorder, but the front-runner centers around the absence of sunlight during this time of year.
Exposure to natural light has been shown to up your energy levels and improve your sleep by helping to regulate your body's circadian rhythms—the natural sleep cycles that determine when you feel tired or energized. But too little light can screw up your sleep-wake cycle and leave you feeling lethargic and depressed, research shows. You probably already know it's important to get out in the sun at this time of year. Here are five more surprising ways to beat the post-holiday blues.
|Put down your iPad.|
While natural light during the day is good, evening exposure to the type of bright light emitted by computers, TVs, smartphones, and other electronic devices can throw off your circadian cycle and increase your risk for depression, find research from Johns Hopkins University. Shut devices off and turn down the lights at night to lower your risk.
|Spend time with your real friends.|
Did your favorite fall TV show recently end? Because your brain latches on to fictional characters as though they were real pals, experiencing the conclusion of your favorite show can trigger depression, indicates research from Ohio State University. To improve your mood, you could watch reruns on Netflix. A better idea: Turn off the TV and spend time talking or meeting up with your actual buddies to feel more upbeat, the research suggests.
|Eat your spinach.|
Because it aids in the production of mood-regulating hormones, the B-vitamin folate can help perk you up and ward off depression, shows a study from Finland. Spinach, avocados, and bananas are all solid folate sources.
People who use multiple types of media at once—say, surfing the web on your phone while watching TV—experience twice the number of depressive symptoms as those who only use one type of device at a time, finds research from Michigan State University. Media overload may harm your brain's ability to filter out irrelevant distractions, the study team suspects. And this kind of poor "attentional control" has been tied to depression. Stick to one device, or at least try to give yourself breaks from your media overload.
|Avoid Debbie Downers.|
Bad thoughts are contagious, and spending time around people with a rotten attitude ups your risk for depression, indicates a study in Clinical Psychological Science. When you interact with negative people, it's possible their gloomy opinions darken the way you think of your own life and actions, the authors say. So surround yourself with positive buds to keep your spirits high.