We get so many wonderful gifts from the sun: it helps stabilize our moods, strengthen our immune systems, and fight disease. So when the days get shorter and daylight dwindles, it’s not uncommon for us to catch more colds or feel a little extra sleepy. But for some people, the “winter blues” are more than feeling lethargic or wanting to crawl into bed a little early. For some, the changing of seasons translates to a noticeable depression that makes it hard to function. This is Seasonal Affective Disorder. Before we address ways to fight Seasonal Affective Disorder—or SAD for short—let’s examine how SAD works and understand its symptoms so you can identify if you are a sufferer.
How Seasonal Affective Disorder Works
The Mayo Clinic defines Seasonal Affective Disorder as “a type of depression related to changes in seasons.” It’s believed that decreased amounts of daylight cause a decline in our brain’s production of serotonin and melatonin, chemicals that regulate our mood and our sleep. Here’s a quick video that explains how this works:
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Because it is a form of depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder often mimics major depression symptoms like a loss of interest, feeling hopeless, and difficulty concentrating. However, Seasonal Affective Disorder itself usually begins in fall and lasts throughout the winter. Some of the most common symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder include:
- Feeling constantly fatigued
- Oversleeping or having trouble sleeping
- Feeling depressed most of the day, for many days in a row
- Feeling agitated
- Weight gain or major changes in appetite
If you have chronic depression, or if your Seasonal Affective Disorder becomes too overwhelming to manage, please seek out the help of a doctor or therapist. No one should have to suffer alone, and we want you to get the help you need to be happy and healthy. Luckily, there are also things you can do to ease Seasonal Affective Disorder on your own. Try to incorporate some of these tips into your daily life to fight SAD and feel better today.
How To Fight Seasonal Depression
1) Embrace The Power Of A Sunrise
If you’re not normally a morning person, consider a change of pace during the winter months; get up with the sunrise each morning. Seeing the sun come up over the horizon is not only a peaceful way to start your day, but it will help energize you for the day ahead. Exposure to bright light early in the morning causes you to produce melatonin earlier in the evening, keeping your sleep schedule on track and helping you get enough rest.
2) Park Yourself Beneath A Happy Lamp
“Happy lamps” or light therapy boxes, can reduce symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. These are light boxes that provide exposure to 10,000 lux of light and can be turned on for 20-30 minutes at a time while you sit under them. They help your body and mind to feel like you’re getting “real” sunlight and can be very effective at treating SAD. Try to use the happy lamp within an hour of waking, and at a distance of 20 inches or so from your face.
Related: 9 Proven Ways To Be Happier
3) Write Yourself a Prescription For Daily Exercise
Make sure you’re getting daily aerobic exercise, which Dr. Weill, a pioneer in natural medicine, has recommended as an effective way to treat SAD. Exercise releases endorphins, and combining that with getting fresh air outdoors can do wonders for your mood. You can still run outside when it’s cold, just gear up and make it happen! Become an early morning exerciser so you can reap the endorphin benefits of your workout all day long.
4) Take Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps boost our brain’s serotonin levels, so when we get less of it from the sun, our moods can plummet. During winter months, it’s a great idea to take a Vitamin D supplement in order to keep Seasonal Affective Disorder at bay. Although you can get Vitamin D from food, there aren’t too many foods that provide enough Vitamin D to support our health during the winter—so consider supplementing.
5) Eat These Mood-Boosting Foods
Did you know that certain foods can naturally increase your brain’s production of two feel good chemicals, serotonin and dopamine? Typically, foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids can increase your serotonin and dopamine levels. Try fish like salmon, herring, and mackerel, which are all Omega-3-rich, for a brain boost. Dark, leafy greens like spinach or kale are also good options because they’re loaded with vitamin B12, also thought to raise serotonin levels in the brain.
6) Massage Therapy
Massage therapy has been shown to benefit many types of depression and anxiety, in addition to its other great benefits of boosting your immune system, flushing out toxins, and aiding in muscle recovery. Schedule a massage appointment or get friends together for a different spa treatment. Giving yourself some extra TLC during the cold, dark months can help you feel calmer and more at peace.
7) Plan Something To Look Forward To
Don’t feel stuck during dark winter days. Plan get-togethers with friends, concerts, maybe even a trip. Keep your calendar full, even when you don’t always feel like doing something, because it will give you something to look forward to and keep you engaged and connected to your loved ones—something that can help ease symptoms of depression in general.
8) Snack On Healthy Carbs
It turns out your propensity for eating carbs when you’re blue might not be as harmful as you think. According to doctors, snacking on the right kind of carbohydrates can actually curb symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. They stress that it does matter the type of carbs that you eat—they say to eat complex carbohydrates instead of simple carbs (like white bread, white pasta, or refined sugary sweets.) Instead, they suggest popcorn, brown rice, or shredded wheat crackers to snack. We like Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop variety, because it’s made of natural ingredients and not laden with butter and salt like the movie theatre varieties.
9) Try St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Wort is an herbal remedy available without a prescription and has been used in Europe for years as a natural mood-booster. Taking St. John’s Wort can help Seasonal Affective Disorder, especially when combined with light therapy. The main chemicals found in St. John’s Wort, hyperforin and adhyperforin, act as messengers for the nervous system to help regulate your mood. St. John’s Wort does have side effects, however, and can interact with many common medications, so consult your doctor before taking it.