Living Here

The short and dark days ahead may zap all your energy – what to do?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also called winter depression, is not uncommon, especially the further north you get. Find our best tips on what you can do to avoid it.

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Text and Picture by T.L. Power

With the seasonal time change to “winter time”, the cold season and the accompanying darker days are upon us in Denmark.

Many people do not cope well with the darkness and may feel more tired, less motivated, and in some cases even sad or depressed. Experts have found that up to five percent of Danes suffer from severe winter depression.

During the winter months, a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects many people in Northern climates.

As tempting as it is to hibernate under a blanket for the winter months, drinking wine and binge-watching Netflix, this is not, as I discovered first-hand, the remedy for SAD.

When I arrived in Denmark I was advised to prepare for the gloom of the impending winter months and warned of the dark and dreary days.

I scoffed at the warnings. I had lived through cold winters my whole life and believed the milder Danish winters would be easy for me.

Before long, I realized that I had swapped the blinding glare of the sun bouncing off icy snow for an all-encompassing oppressive greyness of Danish winter.

The sun made brief appearances, a whitish orb that occasionally hovered reluctantly just above the buildings.

These were not the bright, bitterly cold winter days to which I was accustomed and it soon started to take a toll on my mood, so I did some research.

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Vitamin D capsules can be helpful but are not always enough to ward off the winter blues. Light therapy can be a more effective way to combat the lethargy and tiredness that define seasonal affective disorder.

Studies have shown that sitting under a SAD lamp for just thirty minutes a day can improve symptoms of SAD. SAD lamps simulate the light that we get from being outside on a sunny day.

If you think a SAD lamp may be right for you, look for a lamp that provides 10,000 lux of light. Sit with the light source between thirty to sixty centimetres from your face, eyes open but not staring directly at the light.

For maximum benefit, the lamp should be used in the morning, maybe while you are having breakfast or are getting ready for your day. If this isn’t possible, aim to use the light as early in the day as you can. Otherwise the light may interfere with a good night’s sleep.

I bought my lamp when I noticed that my usual winter doldrums were getting out of control.

I was staying home a lot and making excuses for what I perceived as laziness and procrastination. I found myself avoiding social situations and spending more time alone, getting sucked into a cycle where the less I did, the less I wanted to do.

The benefits of the SAD lamp were almost immediate for me. I made time each day to sit and relax in front of the lamp, either reading or listening to a podcast with a cup of tea.

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My mood brightened, and my outlook improved, allowing me to return to my normal day to day activities with more enthusiasm. With the return of the longer winter days this year, I am not dreading the dark days and instead am feeling prepared to tackle them head on.

During the winter months, you should also take extra good care of yourself by eating well and getting some daily exercise, preferably by spending some time outside, even if only for brief intervals.

Going for a walk, a run or even a short bicycle ride can help with those winter blues.

Make sure to get out and see friends and perhaps try a new hobby.

Generally keeping busy can help keep your spirits up.

The SAD lamp, in combination with an active choice to soldier on is, in my opinion, the key to thriving during the Danish winter. Resist the urge to hibernate.

If you are still struggling with tiredness and extreme blues, and not getting relief from the tips provided in this article, contact your doctor for help.