Overcoming Seasonal Affective Disorder

As the temperatures get cooler and the days get shorter, many people experience winter blues.  Instead of feeling the cheer and joy of the holidays and other wintery events, millions of Americans experience a funk that comes with lack of energy, low levels of motivation and even a mild depression.  While some people don’t consider this condition, clinically known as “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD),” to be very serious, Psychologist John Grohol suspects that 5% of the population, mostly residing in the northern states, suffer from it.

Research from the Mayo Clinic points to the shrinking daylight hours as the trigger, as the lack of sunlight also means that the brain produces less serotonin – a mood-enhancing neurotransmitter.  Furthermore, with more dark hours, the body produces more melatonin – a hormone that induces sleep.  As the hours of daylight decrease, desire for sleep, carbs and sluggishness increase.

Risk Factors for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Who is at risk for SAD?  Women tend to be more at risk for depression than males – with women between the ages of 20 and 40 more than twice as likely to get depressed as males of the same age.  Furthermore, the further you live from the equator (and the less sunlight you are exposed to) also plays a big role – there are more people affected by SAD in Alaska than in Florida.  Having a family or personal history of depression is another risk factor.

Give Seasonal Affective Disorder the Cold Shoulder

Being more at risk for SAD than the men in your life doesn’t mean settling into a gloomy winter.  Instead of giving into the sluggishness that cold weather inspires, actively aim to make your winter life as similar to your day-to-day summer life as possible.  Start by making sure you get up and move.  According to the Women’s Hospital in Boston, being active can really jump start a good mood.  While cold temperatures might serve as a deterrent, morning sunlight has the best mood lifting effects.  Can’t bring yourself to brave outdoor winter perils?  Do housework or head to the gym.  The endorphins brought on by exercise actively fight depression.

When the winter blues are hanging over your head, curling up with those sweets and carbs might be what you desire to do most, but now more than ever is a time for healthy eating.  Giving into the cravings for starchy foods will only be a short-time fix – and will lead to weight gain.  In addition to eating a diet filled with essential nutrients, try to add more lean proteins and foods low in sugars.  This will keep your blood sugar levels stable.  Be sure to also drink enough water and drink alcohol in moderation.  Try adding a multivitamin that has Vitamin D in it to your diet as well.  By doing so, you will ensure that you are getting the vitamins and nutrients that are normally obtained from sunlight.

Getting to sleep earlier can also help – as long as you also rise earlier.  This will enable more of your waking hours to be in sunlight.  Keep your blinds open so natural light streams in and wakes you.   Be diligent in making sure you don’t oversleep as well – doing so will only lead to deeper feelings of lethargy.

When All Else Fails, Don’t Get Sad, Get Help

You may feel like crawling into a hole but don’t self-isolate.  It will actually create the opposite effect of providing relief.  Having a supportive circle is a great network to seek encouragement from.  If you are still having trouble despite the support, and changing your lifestyle by adding exercise, sunlight and a more balanced diet doesn’t help, you may need to seek professional help.  Though SAD only tends to strike in winter months, it is still a form of depression and mental health professionals will have more treatment options to get you feeling better as they will be able to tailor a treatment program just for you.