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Got the winter blues? How your house can help you cope with seasonal depression

Homeownership winter blues

Key insights:

  • Even the hardiest of Minnesotans can get the winter blues and some even have seasonal affective disorder, or seasonal depression.
  • There are a few clever ways that homeowners can boost their exposure to natural light sources, including taking screens off their home’s windows.
  • Other emerging technology, like the "happy light,” can help those with the winter blues boost their energy and minimize mood swings.

What is seasonal affective disorder?

For homeowners in the Midwest, the winter brings low temperatures, strong storms and less sunlight. Due to the shorter days and seemingly endless snow and subzero forecasts, many people feel sluggish during these colder months. But for some midwestern residents, this drop in motivation and well-being can be a much more serious condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or seasonal depression.

According to the Mayo Clinic, SAD is the result of a biological urge to hibernate, and symptoms can include:

  • Low energy
  • Oversleeping
  • Poor concentration
  • Irritability
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Overeating

Let’s quickly address the elephant in the room. Most of us are guilty of canceling plans on a super-frigid day, or of indulging in too many mugs of hot cocoa after shoveling the driveway. Because we tend to spend more time indoors in winter months, it can be difficult to identify if you’re simply leaning into the realities of the season or suffering from seasonal depression.

Keep in mind that SAD can grow stronger as the winter progresses, so you’ll want to check in on your mental health, energy and motivation as we enter the later winter months. Below are three ways homeowners can fight the winter blues before it escalates to a more serious condition.

Combat seasonal depression with natural light

One way to counteract SAD is to get plenty of natural light. Just as you can get sunburnt on a cloudy July day, it’s possible to get sun exposure on an overcast winter day. Make a habit of opening up your window treatments right away when you get up in the morning and only close them when you leave for the day. Houselogic also recommends removing screens from your windows during the winter, which can boost sunlight by 30%.

You can even get an extra dose of sunshine by opening up your sunroof cover on your morning commute. Every minute counts!

Add soothing elements to your home

Once you have natural light streaming in, take inventory of how your home operates in the winter. Does your dimly-lit living room need an extra lamp or two, or can you add brighter bulbs to your existing light fixtures? Is the lack of fresh air making your home smell musty or feel stuffy?

Consider small updates to your interior, including:

  • Adding more natural plants or buying a new bouquet of fresh flowers each week
  • Changing up your paint or accent colors to something bright and energetic
  • Incorporating smart home features like dimming lights or soothing sounds/music
  • Adding essential oil diffusers around your home

And of course, don’t forget that between the holidays and the cold, winter is a time when clutter tends to build up. Spend a weekend decluttering your home — from the Amazon boxes you’ve been meaning to break down, to the unworn clothes hanging in your closet — and you should emerge with a renewed sense of love for the space you call home.

Get outside and get your heart pumping

You know that we're bonafide Minnesotans when you hear our next piece of advice: Get outside when you can! Set a challenge to go on a 20-minute walk on any day that the high reaches above 20-25 degrees. Bundle up from head to toe and consider bringing a cup of coffee or hot cocoa to keep you extra warm. Not only will the light exposure help, exercising is a proven way of relieving stress and anxiety, two common factors that the Mayo Clinic says can elevate seasonal depression.

If you’re not sure you can do it alone, ask a family member or neighbor to take the challenge with you and hold each other accountable. We promise, you'll never be so grateful for your warm house as when you re-enter it after a winter walk!

Short bursts of exposure can help, too. Rather than looking for the closest parking spot at work, the grocery store or your gym, challenge yourself to park in the last row so you get a few more minutes of sunshine on your entry and exit.

Fake it with light therapy or Vitamin D

Many health professionals recommend that midwesterners combat their winter blues by incorporating higher levels of Vitamin D into their diet or by taking Vitamin D supplements. Consult your doctor for the right recommended dosage.

You may also want to consider buying a light therapy box. Light therapy boxes are relatively inexpensive devices that promise to boost energy and minimize mood swings that can occur as a result of low exposure to natural light. These boxes have also been shown to help regulate sleep schedules, which can sometimes get off-balance when daylight hours are scarce. Medical professionals recommend using a light therapy box right away in the morning.

Light boxes are available at different price points at many retailers and online at Amazon.

Seek professional help for seasonal depression

Boosting your sun exposure and physical activity may help aid a mild case of the winter blues, but SAD is a more complex medical diagnosis that requires professional treatment. Be sure to contact your doctor if you notice intense mood swings, the need to isolate, severe exhaustion or low energy.

If you are professionally diagnosed with SAD, your doctor will advise you on the best treatment plan.

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