Feeling the winter blues? You’re not alone — and there’s a reason. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is very real, and it affects an estimated 10 million Americans.
SAD is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, often starting in the late fall as the days get shorter and darker. If most often begins to lift with the coming of spring and increased daylight.
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Healthcare professionals believe that Seasonal Affective Disorder is a result of a few triggers. The first is the disruption to your circadian rhythm or biological clock. Less sunlight and longer hours of darkness in the fall and winter may disrupt your body’s internal clock, leaving you to feel more tired and depressed.
Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin levels, a brain chemical that affects your mood. The reduction of this feel-good neurotransmitter can leave you feeling blue. Lack of sunlight also means a drop in melatonin levels, which can affect mood and sleep.
What Are The Symptoms Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD symptoms go beyond the occasional “feeling blue”. They may include:
- Feeling depressed most days
- Loss of interest in things you normally enjoy
- Feeling sluggish and fatigued
- Oversleeping or insomnia
- Feeling hopeless, unworthy or guilty
- Increased irritability
- Weight and appetite loss or gain
- Difficulty focusing and concentrating
- Brain fog or trouble retaining information
- Thoughts of death or suicide
6 Ways to Fight Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder. Follow these 6 tips to get back to feeling like yourself!
1. See your doctor.
It’s normal to have occasional days when you feel down. But if feelings of depression are plaguing you for days at a time, or if you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, it’s time to talk to your doctor. Your doctor may run blood tests to see if you are deficient in Vitamin D or other essential nutrients, as well as go over your symptoms and life changes. Together, you can determine the best course of action.
2. Try light therapy.
Phototherapy, or light therapy, is often the first defense against seasonal depression. It’s been a popular treatment for SAD since the 1980s.
A full-spectrum light box mimics the sun’s rays to offset the lack of sunlight in the winter. Symptoms of seasonal depression may be relieved by sitting in front of a light box first thing in the morning each day throughout the fall and winter months. On average, you will need at least 20-30 minutes of exposure to 10,000 lux of cool-white fluorescent light per day.
While there are a plethora of light boxes available for purchase on the Internet, not all light boxes are created equally. It’s best to get a recommendation from your doctor prior to purchasing one.
The Mayo Clinic offers tips for selecting a light box here.
3. Commit to regular exercise.
One of your biggest weapons in the fight against depression is simply activity. Even when you don’t feel like crawling out of bed, taking a short walk around the block or doing 20 minutes of yoga can help restore health and wellbeing to your body.
Moderate exercise such as walking, jogging, climbing stairs and yoga release endorphins and serotonin to the brain, which elevate your mood and health. Aim for at least 20-30 minutes of moderate exercise per day.
4. Try mind-body techniques.
Mind-body techniques such as meditation, tai chi or yoga can help you better cope with the onset of depression. Focusing on gratitude can also help you steer your thoughts from helplessness to hope.
Take a class at a local community center, or try a morning meditation practice in the comfort of your home.
5. Stick to a schedule.
While you may be inclined to oversleep or binge-watch television on the couch, establishing and maintaining a schedule can help you be consistent with activity from day-to-day. Try your best to wake up and go to bed at the same time each day, schedule in your meals and exercise. Getting into a routine will help your body learn to navigate the winter months in a more productive and healthy way.
6. Enjoy nature or a getaway.
If you’re able, take a vacation to a warmer, sunnier place to give your body some extra Vitamin D and sunlight therapy. If that’s not possible, try getting away to a new town for a weekend. The new sights and sounds can build feelings of excitement and joy, renewing your energy and mood.
It can also help to get out into nature, regardless of the weather. Suit up and go play in the snow, or don a raincoat and take a misty hike through the forest. Immersing yourself in the calm beauty of nature can do wonders for the soul.