Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD affects many Americans causing them depressive symptoms during a specific time of the year, most commonly winter. While we are still not 100% certain how it works, however it's clear that SAD thrives in cooler darker places. In the United States, SAD prevalence ranges from 1% of the population in Florida to over 9% in many northern states..
Some common symptoms of SAD include:
- low mood for most of the day
- loss of interest in usual activities
- lethargy or chronic fatigue
- irregular sleep patterns
- irritability and mood swings
- increase in appetite specifically carbs and comfort foods
While we can't all pack up and move to Hawaii, we can use tools and resources to combat this winter foe.
Get Some Light!
Natural light is best, especially in the morning. Sunlight is directly responsible for the production of Serotonin and Melatonin, both of which help to regulate mood. Find time to go for walks or find other outdoor activities to help soak up those rays. Things like skiing, snowboarding, hiking, snowshoeing, sledding, ice skating, or just playing in the snow are great ways to get some outdoor time. Even just opening the blinds and making your home as light and airy as possible helps to combat SAD symptoms. For those unable to get outdoors "light therapy" has also be shown to have positive results. Now we don't mean sitting in a tanning bed, rather using "light boxes" or specific lighting systems specifically made for light therapy.
Exercise and Diet
During bouts of strenuous exercise the body releases chemicals such as endorphin's, dopamine, among many others. These help to alleviate stress and anxiety and can even leave you feeling euphoric aka "runner's high".
Depression often increases cravings for carbohydrates and comfort foods so trying to keep your diet as close to normal during this time is essential.
Think about joining a class or finding a workout buddy or an accountability challenge to help you stick with it during this time.
A Vitamin D deficiency has been linked as a possible underlying cause of SAD, so eating a diet rich in foods containing Vitamin D or taking a Vitamin D (specifically D3) supplement can be beneficial during this time.
While this time of year can seem daunting remember that it will soon pass. Try to maintain your diet and exercise schedule and get outdoors as often as the weather allows. Use as many tools as possible to keep your holiday season healthy and cheerful!