As the days get shorter and the temperature starts to drop many of us start to feel drained mentally and emotionally. We become more tired than usual, motivation to continue your normal routine seems to vanish and you find yourself wanting to stay inside and not do much of anything. This is known as SAD or seasonal affective disorder.
SAD is defined as a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons and usually begins and ends at about the same time every year (Pruthi). It is common for people to brush SAD off as the “winter blues” or saying they’re in a funk. However, it is something that should be addressed and, luckily, there are ways to help. The first step is to recognize the symptoms.
Signs and symptoms may include;
● Feeling depressed
● Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
● Low energy
● Changes in sleep patterns
● Changes in your appetite or weight
● Feeling agitated
● Difficulty concentrating
● Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
● Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide (If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, know you are not crazy, or weak, or flawed and you are definitely not alone. Please ask for help from family, a trusted friend, a health care provider or support services like the suicide prevention lifeline 1-800-273-8255 which provides 24/7, free and confidential support)
Treatment for SAD can include medications and therapy and there are other actions you can take to help with your symptoms:
- Get Moving!
Regular exercise is a great way to boost serotonin, endorphins and other chemicals in your brain that make you happier and feel better. Exercise not only can help improve your mood, but also increase your self-esteem. Make sure to choose a type of exercise you enjoy and one you will stay consistent with. The goal is to aim for 30-60 minutes of continuous exercise as many days a week as possible (Robinson).
- Eat To Be Happy
Our bodies react differently to different foods. We learn this over time and begin to associate certain foods with certain feelings. When experiencing SAD symptoms, it is important that we fuel our bodies with foods that will give us energy and provide us with the vitamins needed to keep our bodies strong. Healthy fats are essential to providing your body with the energy to get through
the day. Healthy fats are monounsaturated fats, found in nuts, olive oil and avocados, and polyunsaturated fats, like omega 3s and 6s, which can be found in flaxseeds, fatty fish and chia seeds. Including a variety of fruits and vegetables (think eating the rainbow) provide vitamins and minerals that are also essential to
creating a healthier mind and body.
- Vitamin D
While all vitamins are important to keeping your mind and body healthy, vitamin D is most associated with depression. Some of the receptors in the brain are receptors for vitamin D, which means that vitamin D is in some way in the brain. These receptors are found in the areas of the brain that are linked to the development of depression. Although we still do not know exactly how vitamin D works in the brain there are theories that vitamin D can increase the release of a certain chemical in the brain that helps treat depression. You can increase your vitamin D intake either through taking a Vitamin D supplement, or as simply as getting out into the sun.
The connection between sleep and depression is complex. Lack of sleep or too much sleep can contribute to depressive disorders such as SAD. Lack of sunlight during the winter months can cause hypersomnia while SAD that occurs during the summer months causes insomnia. What causes these changes in people with SAD is the change in melatonin production due to sunlight exposure
(Terman). Lack of sleep or too much sleep has effects on the body such as lethargy, changes in weight, appetite and mood. Ways to regulate your sleep schedule would include maximizing sunlight exposure, exercising outdoors if possible, and being diet conscious by choosing lean proteins and whole foods instead of processed ones.
- Talk to a Doctor
It is normal for everyone to have days where they feel more tired than usual and less motivated. What to look for when determining if you think you have SAD or not is if your symptoms are causing a disruption in your everyday life. If your feelings of fatigue, lack of motivation and sadness are stopping you from your everyday routine then it would be appropriate to seek medical help.
In addition to seeking medical help you can always start today towards treating SAD with small lifestyle changes like the ones listed above. Realizing you have SAD or any kind of depressive disorder can be difficult to accept or understand. Thankfully there are numerous resources available for you to get the help and treatment you need. By following the tips listed above you can be on your way to overcoming SAD.
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Pruthi, Sandhya. “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for
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Terman, Jiuan Su. “Circadian Time of Morning Light Administration and Therapeutic
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