Millions of people start feeling the effects of SAD around this time of year. It's important to take care of yourself during this coming winter.
The seasons are changing. It seems like just a week ago I was walking around in a light coat, enjoying my pumpkin spice whatevers and appreciating the way the autumn sun danced among the falling leaves.
Now I'm covered in layer after cumbersome layer of winter clothes. Night comes on at 4:45PM, everything is cold and gloomy, and the mind tends to travel down sadder paths.
If that sounds like your experience, you may have a fun little thing called Seasonal Affective Disorder (which abbreviates nicely as SAD.) Some people feel intense changes in their mood during this season. But why does this happen?
Circadian rhythms. Your body’s sleep-wake cycle responds to changes in natural daylight to regulate your sleep, mood, and appetite. The longer nights and shorter days of winter can disrupt your internal clock, which can leave you feeling groggy, disoriented, and sleepy at different times of the day.
Production of melatonin. When it’s dark, your brain produces the hormone melatonin to help you sleep. When you're going around in daylight, it triggers the brain to stop melatonin production so you feel awake and alert. However, your body produces too much melatonin during the darker hours of winter.
Production of serotonin. The reduced sunlight of winter can lower your body’s production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood. Serotonin affects your sleep, appetite, memory, and sexual desire, so having a deficit may lead to depression.
Now, it goes without saying that WE ARE NOT DOCTORS AND IF YOUR SYMPTOMS BECOME OUT OF CONTROL THEN WE ENCOURAGE YOU TO TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR AND/OR MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL but if you are dealing with a lower grade version of the seasonal blahs, we have some suggestions on what works to help maintain good mental hygiene.
1) Get Good Rest and Get Up Earlier
As cool as those people going through an endless Goth phase may seem like, humans are creatures of the sun. We like daylight down to a cellular level, and if you want to keep healthy then you should rise with the sun and spend as much of the day soaking up its rays.
2) Exercise and proper diet
Most of us want to hunker down under a pile of blankets with a bunch of junk food and some streaming service, but too much indulgence can actually make things worse. Exercise releases feel-good endorphins, oxygenate the blood and can take your mind off stress. The same goes for a lot of sugary food, which can cause your blood sugar to spike and tweak your mood in negative ways.
Getting out of the house and into the gym might be a challenge, but you can do a solid workout with cardio, weight training, and other solid exercises.
I play Just Dance. Nothing shakes the blues like dancing to ABBA.
3) Vitamins and Supplements
You don't get enough Vitamin D from the sun? Take a supplement. Got a strong case of the blues? Well, there's a lot of ACTUAL SCIENCE that shows the positive benefits of turmeric and omega 3 supplements. Take a few and help take the edge off.
4) Light Therapy
One of the most common recommended therapies for people dealing with SAD is light therapy. People using light therapy sit a few feet from a special light box during the first couple hours after waking up every day. Light therapy mimics natural outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood. It takes time for light therapy to take effect, but it's also one of the first steps used to treat SAD.
So there you go. Exercise, eat well, take supplements, and try light box therapy. It will help you stay positive and happy through the long, cold winter.