As the days get shorter and the nights get longer more people are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). More commonly known as “Seasonal Depression”. It affects more than THREE MILLION people per year.
Sunlight Plays a Role in Winter Blues
Although the specific cause of SAD remains unknown, there are a few science-based facts that could contribute to SAD. The reduced sunlight of winter months plays a huge role in Seasonal Depression because it throws off your body’s internal clock. It can also alter the body’s melatonin levels and have a massive effect on sleep and sleep patterns, thereby causing insomnia or on the other end of the spectrum, chronic fatigue. This lack of sunlight also causes serotonin levels (a hormone that aids in producing feelings of happiness and well-being) to drop leaving those feelings harder to acquire for some.
People at Risk
You’re most at risk of experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder if you have a family history of mental illness, already have depression and/or bipolar disorder, or if living far from the equator. If you’re experiencing Seasonal Depression, you may experience a few or all of the following:
- Mood changes
- Disrupted sleep (too much or too little)
- Lack of energy
- Craving of carbs/overeating
Staying Mentally Fit
So now that we know what it is, what can we do to combat it to keep ourselves mentally fit? The tips I’m about to list here are not at all rocket science but they are underestimated and will produce benefits. I’d also like to disclose that these are just tips — if you are experiencing SAD to an extreme degree or are having suicidal thoughts, please see your provider, therapist, or go to the nearest Emergency Room for help in a crisis if necessary.
The Power of Friends and Family.
Firstly, I’d suggest you connect with people as frequently as you can. It’s easy to go into hibernation mode this time of year; it’s cold, dark, and leaving home just doesn’t always sound the most appealing. This lack of social interaction can lead to loneliness, overthinking and even isolation – all major contributors to depression. When we gather together with friends or family, we’re motivated to make an effort and put our attention on something other than what’s got us feeling down.
The Power of Sunlight.
Next, get some sunlight when you can. A short morning walk or before dark can do wonders. But of course that can get difficult in the winter. And if you’re a 9-5’ers you may be thinking, “It’s dark out when I wake up and dark again when I get home. How am I supposed to do that?” That is a great question.
My solution to you folks is: Light therapy. Light therapy can be done right at home. It’s a specially made “lamp” like device that gives off white fluorescent lights that mimic sunlight. There is a plastic screening in place that blocks UV rays. It’s recommended to sit in front of the light for 30 minutes each morning. It’s also important to consult with your provider prior to trying this if you are on any medications. This is because certain medications mixed with this treatment could cause damage to the retina (mostly for conditions such as diabetes or retinopathy). Studies from the Cleveland Clinic show that Light Therapy helps reduce SAD by 60-80%.
Exercising is great for Physical & Mental Fitness.
Lastly, we’ve all heard that exercising releases endorphins and endorphins make you happy – and this is correct! When the cold hits, only the strongest of the strong make it outside routinely to exercise. Running a mile in the snow? It’s a no from me! Instead, try getting active indoors. It is an absolute myth that you need a work-out room full of gym equipment to get active at home. Try exercises like HIITS or yoga to get your blood pumping and body moving. If you are interested in using some equipment, a few light weights can go a long way! Another alternative is to try to make the most of winter and get outdoors doing winter-like activities such as snowboarding, skiing, or maybe ice skating. Creating and engaging in fun outdoor activities will help you feel gratitude when you otherwise may not.
I wish you the best in health and wellness,
Stephanie – Clinical Assistant