We all love sunshine and all the energy it brings. However, as the days become shorter in the fall, some people get the “winter blues”. There is something called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD is a type of depression that is affected by the seasons. Some people may experience sleeping more than usual, have less energy than before, some may overeat, gain weight or crave carbohydrates. Some people may withdraw from social circles or events.
Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
According to the Mayo Clinic, the root cause is really unknown. However, some factors seem to play a major role when it comes to SAD.
- Melatonin Levels: Melatonin is a hormone that helps with sleep. The darker it is, the more your body produces and releases this hormone. Changes in the season can have an effect on this balance.
- Serotonin Levels: Serotonin is often called the happy chemical (neurotransmitter) because of its ability to affect mood. It is believed to play a role in SAD because low levels of sunlight may cause a drop in Serotonin.
- Your biological clock or circadian rhythm. Again, the decreasing amounts of sunlight may disrupt your body’s biological clock.
Signs and symptoms of SAD may include:
The Mayo Clinic has listed the following as symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.
- Feelings of wanting to be isolated
- Having no or low energy
- losing interest in former liked activities
- having troubles with sleep
- feelings of sluggishness
- having a hard time concentrating
- eating more, craving carbs, gaining weight.
What can you do?
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, there are certain approaches that can help SAD.
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Light Therapy: Some evidence shows that light therapy can be beneficial by replacing the reduced sunshine in the winter months, with daily exposure to a light box. Typically, exposure between 20-60 minutes is needed and with exposure to 10,000 lux of cool white fluorescent light. For safety, avoid staring directly at the light. NIH cautions that light therapy may induce mania in people with unrecognized or untreated bipolar d/o.
–CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy): Some evidence shows that this type of behavioral activation helps people recognize positive thoughts. It seeks to replace negative thoughts with more pleasurable ones. In attempts to help them cope better on the winter months.
-St. John’s Wort: There is limited evidence in proving the benefits of this herb. Additionally, it can weaken the effects of certain medications, as well as increase serotonin-related side effects. Please check with your provider prior to adding this to your regimen.
–Melatonin: there is a controlled study in 2003 that showed that melatonin improved sleep quality. Melatonin showed safety in short-term use. However, there are no long-term studies showing safety in long-term use. Side effects may include drowsiness, headache, nausea, and vomiting.
–Vitamin D: Low levels of this vitamin are found in people affected by SAD. There is mixed evidence to its effectiveness. Some evidence shows it is as effective as light therapy. However, vitamin D has other benefits for the body. Check with your provider on the proper amount of vitamin D you may need.
Related post: How to improve vitamin D.
More tips to help your mood and energy levels:
Here in Alaska, we are not strangers to extended periods of darkness in the winter time. We can actually have up to 20 hours of darkness in the winter. We still love it! However, we have learned to adapt. Winter sports anyone?
- Learn some winter sport! Learn to ski, snowboard or fat bike!
- How about running? Yes with the proper running gear, it’s actually enjoyable to run outside. Freshly fallen snow provides nice traction. Better yet, you can get studs placed on the sole of your favorite running shoe! This, of course, will be your permanent winter running shoe. I’ve also recently discovered ice bugs. They are waterproof and has studs that will help with your grip while running. Of course, don’t forget your other safety gear if you decide to take up winter running. Gears such as reflective belt or vest, proper head protection, headlamp if running at night.
- Maybe just some light walking, or Nordic walking. With the proper gear, it is really refreshing to be outside and enjoy the scenery.
- Still, don’t want to be outside? How about doing hot yoga? It will help you detoxify, ease muscle tension and get the blood circulating.
- Not a hot yoga fan? Hit the gym and relax in the steam room or sauna after your workout. You deserve it.
- How about meeting a friend in a coffee shop. Or just finding a favorite coffee or tea house with a nice fireplace. Prop yourself down and read that book you’ve been putting off.
- Take a vacation. Relax and rejuvenate somewhere warm!
- Have a home DIY Spa.
These approaches can be especially helpful during the holidays. Along with the hectic and busy schedules, everyone seems to be running around. family travel, cooking for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then there’s the shopping.
Let us not forget the Christmas parties and child recitals and concerts. Additionally, there are preparations to be made since kids will be out of school for Christmas break. As much as this is a time for celebration and excitement, too many things are happening at the same time.
Let us remember the real reasons behind these celebrations. Let us also recognize the need to slow down and focus on what truly matters. Sure it is easy to tell ourselves what needs to be done. However, there are times we cannot help to feel a certain way.
This is when it is time to focus on self-care. this can be approached through diet, meditation, exercises or simply taking time to sit, have a good cup of coffee or tea and read a book.