Beat those Alaska winter blues with these 5 sanity-saving tips
During the winter, it’s very common for Alaskans to experience anything from mild restlessness to existential anguish — for what seemingly no reason. But as you’re about to find out, there is a reason.
Meet “Seasonal Affective Disorder”
Seasonal Affective Disorder — aptly abbreviated to SAD — is a fancy and perhaps more accurate label for “the winter blues.”
SAD occurs in people who react poorly to the long periods of darkness and disruptive sleep patterns found in extreme winter locales in latitudes of approximately 40 degrees moving towards the poles (like Alaska).
Symptoms of SAD include — you guessed it — being sad (or very sad), as well as sleeping too much (or too little), lethargia and social isolation.
How to cope with SAD
Get a SAD lamp
Ask an Alaskan about their SAD lamp and they’ll probably tell you about it. A SAD lamp is a lamp with broad-spectrum light bulb with up to 10,000 lux of brightness (that’s bright!).
When you flip on a SAD lamp, the entire room lights up to an incredible, somewhat comical brightness, providing its user enough light therapy to get them through another day of winter.
The correct “dosage” of light is about 30 minutes of 10,000 lux per day. It takes a few days of light therapy to start feeling better, and up to several weeks to get the full benefits. (Even just buying a SAD lamp can provide some relief by way of placebo affect).
This one is obvious and can’t be excluded: if you’re feeling SAD, exercise. Moving the body vigorously to a point of releasing endorphins will only help you feel better, not worse.
It’s not super important what you do but it is important that you do it. Be consistent, but also consider alternating your activities — even indoors.
Simple stretching loosens your muscles and gets your blood flowing (it also helps prevent injuries). From there you can cross over to yoga, which work wonders for the body, mind.
If you’re up for it, try a meditation practice. Meditation is scientifically proven to increase happiness, compassion and mindfulness while decreasing stress, anxiety and depression (it really works!).
…preferably outdoors in the day
The gym is a great place for this, but if you’re a little more adventurous you might want to try going outdoors, during the day in the natural light. Ice skating on Westchester Lagoon is pretty popular in Anchorage, and you’ll find many Alaskans who swear by cross country skiing (by the way we’ve got incredible trail systems for that).
Don’t forget, too, that even though it’s winter and harsh outside, you’re still in Alaska and it’s still drop dead gorgeous. Yes, daylight is very scarce in the winter, but if you can get outside — even for a walk — the realness and rawness of nature can help put your own plight of depression into a more grounded perspective.
Eat with care!
There’s a reason why bears hibernate in the winter — a lot of it has to do with scarcity of food and resulting lack of energy. So they sleep. For months.
Our early human ancestors were much like the bears. We didn’t move as much and we spent more time staying warm in caves than frolicking outside.
Not anymore, of course. We have evolved and now have food available to us whenever we want. The trick is picking the right foods to eat.
Increasing fiber intake helps balance blood glucose levels, while reducing abnormally high serum and cholesterol levels. This is where eating fresh fruits and vegetables come in — they are full of fiber and carbs, rich in vitamins and are slowly absorbed by the body. They are as free of cholesterol, additives, preservatives, processed sugar and salt.
Whole grains are also good for you. They too low on fat and high in fibers, and they contain more essential fatty acids and vitamins compared to the burger joint right up the street.
Tip: Avoid eating processed grain products and heavy meats, especially late in the evening right before bed.
Humans are social creatures and we need other people, even the ones who claim they love their solitude. Getting together with other people *really* helps bat away the blues during the winter.
There’s a catch, though: you need to keep yourself in check. If there’s one thing that very easy to do in a dark, freezing cold place where you’re trapped indoors is to start drinking, sometimes excessively. Most Alaskans who survive the winters will attest to this.
The bottom line
Yes, it is entirely possible to be happy and healthy in Alaska in the winter. You just need to know what you’re up against. Don’t just wing it and hope for the best. Hope is not a strategy.