Why do we get SAD in Winter?
It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you. It’s quite normal for those living in a climate that changes in the Winter to suddenly become a bit sad. According to the Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) “is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons – If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.” So are we bound by this diagnosis or can we do something about it?
How does it happen?
Researchers say it could be one of two things. The first is that changing seasons can disrupt your hormones, such as serotonin and melatonin, meaning that your happy hormones are out of whack. Melatonin is the hormone that helps you fall asleep, so you guessed it… If you aren’t getting enough sleep, it can really zap your willpower. The second reason for Seasonal Affective Disorder is that seasonal changes can disrupt your circadian rhythm. The 24-hr clock that regulates how we function during sleep and how much wake hours cause us to feel energized and alert sometimes and drowsy at other times. In this case, likely drowsy and down for the majority of the day.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, about 20% of US residents have a mild form of SAD. This starts when the days get shorter and colder. SAD is more common, but not exclusive, in women, young people, those living further from the equator, and those with a family history or diagnosis of depression or bipolar.
What can we do to avoid getting Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Although avoiding it altogether would be great, it’s not realistic. The seasons are going to change with or without us. With that being said, we want to keep in mind that we are currently in the middle of a pandemic, so it may be difficult to tell the difference in symptoms. However, it’s empowering to know that you can do something to ease into the cooler seasons with minimal disruptions.
Break up with Sugar.
I’m sure that’s not what you wanted to hear… I didn’t care for this either. Until I realized it helped! Sugar plays a large part in our mental health – depression rates are most prevalent in countries that consume the most sugar. It also hinders the body’s ability to cope with stress, leading to anxiety. I know that sweet, starchy foods are what most of us crave in the winter as a pick-me-up, but next time, try reaching for something that’s full of protein and fiber and warms you up, like this Middle Eastern Stew.
2. Move your body!
Seasonal Affective Disorder is manageable for most of us as long as we exercise regularly. In fact, SAD can be completely avoided with only 30 to 60 minutes of exercise and 20 minutes of sun exposure a day. Go for a lunchtime walk, embrace the brisk temperatures, dress warmly, meet up for a socially-distanced stroll with a friend. There are so many options, many of which don’t cost a penny and can involve a friend or family member (pets included). Get others moving with you and it won’t feel like a chore!
3. Give yourself some UV Love.
The best and cheapest version of this comes from the sun! Otherwise, you can do this by purchasing a light therapy box, which gives off a light that mimics sunshine. It is significantly brighter than that of regular light bulbs and comes at you in different wavelengths. All you need is 20 minutes a day in front of this box and you will begin to stimulate your body’s circadian rhythms. According to researchers, the best time to do this is right in the morning, as this is when you’d be waking up after a healthy night’s rest. As a back-up, you could also supplement with Vitamin D, to make sure you are getting all the benefits of the sun!
Although the weather has changed and perhaps you’re winding down for the winter holidays, it’s still important to maintain or create some type of routine for yourself. It does not need to be strict! For example, if you know you’re going to wake up later because of Daylight savings, create a routine around that. If you decide to wake up at 9 am instead of 7 am (if you’re lucky enough to not have to travel to work), you may want to step outside for 10 or 20 minutes for some sunshine. Then you can go for a quick walk or meditate at lunchtime. Wind down at night with a bath or shower and give yourself a hand or foot massage. Maybe ordering takeout once or twice a week can be part of your schedule.
Find ways to treat yourself that are not going out of your budget or comfort zone. Self-love needs to be scheduled in!
5. You aren’t alone.
You are not the only person feeling this way. It’s good to surround yourself with healthy and positive friends and family, or even the community. Whether you can do this in person or over a Zoom call, communication and contact with others can help! If that isn’t enough, do not hesitate to reach out for professional advice from a doctor or therapist. This doesn’t necessarily mean you will be prescribed medication, but it means you’re doing your part in speaking up about your health. Therapy is also a great option. It gives you an outlet to talk about how you’re feeling and find proactive ways to improve your mood. Studies* show that speaking to a therapist can ease symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. It can even prevent it from happening the next year!
Do you get Seasonal Affective Disorder in Winter? What types of activities do you incorporate into your day to make the cooler seasons more bearable? Share your input down below! We’re curious to find out what has worked for you!