Have you noticed that you feel extra down-in-the-dumps around a certain time of year? That perhaps the blues hit you harder in winter than they do in summer? We are made to feel like the holiday season should be a happy time, so it can be extra confusing to experience these negative emotions. But there’s actually a reason behind why some of us may feel this way around a certain time of year (more commonly, during winter), and that is due to something called seasonal affective disorder. In this article, we will discuss what seasonal affective disorder is, and provide tips on how to combat this so that you can enjoy the holidays along with everyone else.
About Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately abbreviated as SAD) is characterized by changes in mood that occur during the same periods of time each year. In most cases, symptoms will arise during the fall and continue through the winter months, when the days are shorter and much colder. However, SAD can also occur during the spring and summer, though this is much less common. According to Psychology Today, “Seasonal affective disorder is estimated to affect 10 million Americans. Another 10 percent to 20 percent may have mild SAD. SAD is four times more common in women than in men.” Here are some of the symptoms to look out for:
- Feeling sad or depressed nearly all day, every day
- Feeling hopeless, low self-esteem
- Low energy levels
- Insomnia or other troubles sleeping
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Feeling fatigued
- Difficulty concentrating/brain fog
- Having frequent thoughts of death and/or suicide
What causes SAD?
Unfortunately, there is no conclusive research for what actually causes SAD. However, biologists have some theories:
Those with SAD may be Vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D is provided to us through sunlight, absorbed through our skin. So it would make sense that people with Vitamin D deficiencies would suffer more during winter, when the days are shorter and sunlight is scarce.
Those with SAD may have problems regulating serotonin. Serotonin is one of the key neurotransmitters involved in stabilizing a person’s mood. One study showed that people with SAD have 5% more serotonin transporter proteins in winter months than in summer months. This is significant because higher levels of serotonin transporter proteins leave less serotonin available at the synapse.
Those with SAD may overproduce melatonin. Part of our body’s natural cycle (circadian rhythms) is to produce melatonin when it is dark outside, which is our cue that it is time for sleep. When winter days become shorter, melatonin production increases, causing people with SAD to feel sleepier and more lethargic.
8 Tips for Fighting SAD
- Try light therapy. Light therapy involves a period of time sitting in front of a “lightbox”, which emits a strong, bright light. In order for this method to be effective, you must use it consistently and properly. You don’t want to look directly into the light, but you must ensure that the light is entering your eyes for a period of 20 to 30 minutes. These 10,000-lux lights can be purchased on Amazon. You can also utilize something called a dawn simulator, which is essentially an alarm clock that uses light instead of a loud sound to wake one up. This is particularly useful in places where the sun doesn’t rise until much later in the morning, and it can be difficult getting out of bed when it’s still dark outside. It works by emitting light at a slowly increasing intensity, emulating a sunrise.
- Speak with a mental health professional. You may want to start out by talking with a counselor/therapist about how you are feeling. If they believe that your SAD is severe enough, they may refer you to a psychiatrist who can prescribe you antidepressants to help manage your symptoms. Either way, simply discussing your emotions and talking through how you’re feeling can be of great benefit to you.
- Adopt a healthy diet. Many do not realize how much your diet affects your physical and mental health. In general, eating a whole foods diet rich in nutrients will help to balance your body’s chemistry in a healthy, natural way. This can address all kinds of issues, not just seasonal affective disorder.
- Exercise. Moving your body can do wonders for your wellbeing. However, it can be difficult to find the motivation to exercise during low points in your life, when you don’t even feel like getting out of bed, let alone going for a jog. However, anything helps. Don’t feel bad about starting small. Even a 10 to 15-minute walk once a day before bed or even a few times a week to start will help you establish a habit. From there, you can increase the time and intensity of the activity. The effects of this will double in treating SAD if you perform these activities outdoors in the sunshine so that your skin can absorb more Vitamin D!
- Don’t hibernate. During the cold winter months, it can be tempting to bundle up inside and sleep in late, but this only serves to exacerbate the effects of SAD. Instead, you want to try and get up early and get moving as soon as possible. This will help you to feel more energized, productive, and excited to see what the day has to offer. Open those curtains and let the light in as soon as you can!
- Keep a regular schedule. Again, it may be tempting to sleep in on the weekends when you’ve got nothing but time and the thought of exposing yourself to the cold outside of your covers is much too overwhelming! Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This will expose you to light at a more reliable and consistent rate, and help you gain more control over your life.
- Get out there. Spending time with friends or even alone doing activities that get your brain and body moving will help distract you from the symptoms of SAD. We understand that all you want to do when you’re feeling sad is isolate yourself, but we promise that once you start doing something you enjoy, it will drastically improve your mood and leave you feeling content and energized for the rest of the day.
- Get more Vitamin D! As we mentioned before, a lack of Vitamin D could be linked to seasonal depression. Aside from simply exposing yourself to more sunlight, you can also try taking over-the-counter Vitamin D supplements.
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