Do you tend to feel SAD in the winter months?
SAD is actually the perfect acronym for seasonal affective disorder. It is a type of depression that’s related to changes in the seasons, and it is a real problem for many of us. Nearly 20% of people suffer from a mild form of SAD, often called the “winter blues”, which starts when the days get shorter and colder. 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.
There is a light at the end of the wintery tunnel: December 21st is the Winter Solstice, when each day gets longer and brighter.
Experts aren’t certain, but some think that seasonal changes disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm, the 24-hour clock that regulates how we function during sleeping and waking hours. Another theory is that the changing seasons disrupt hormones, such as serotonin and melatonin, which regulate sleep, mood, and feelings of well-being.
SAD doesn’t go away overnight. So if you do suffer from symptoms of SAD, like changes in appetite, oversleeping, losing interest in activities, and feeling moody, here are some great steps you can take to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year.
Finding creative ways to stay connected with others throughout the year is important. If you live in an area of the country with distinct seasons, it’s important to find activities you can enjoy no matter the weather outside, like initiating friend group chats and outings, creating community around fun hobbies, and engaging in clubs or community service. In addition, many studies are now showing that mild daily exercise can be as effective as antidepressants in the treatment of mild depression and SAD.
Experts think that SAD affects both your circadian rhythm and sleep hormones, like melatonin. Keeping a regular sleep schedule will expose you to light at consistent and predictable times, which is known to improve symptoms of SAD.
Studies show that low levels of vitamin D, from low dietary intake or not enough sunlight exposure, are common in people with SAD. An Amaze provider or your PCP can order a Vitamin D level and help you determine if a Vitamin D supplement or increased daily sunshine could help.
Get outside as much as you can during the day to take advantage of natural sunlight. When you’re indoors, keep your blinds open to let in as much natural light as you can. And if you’re working remotely, choose a workspace near a source of natural light if possible.
Exposure to artificial light has been shown to help keep your circadian rhythm on track. You could try a phototherapy box, a device that gives off light that mimics sunshine and can help in the management of SAD symptoms. Typically, sitting in front of a light box for 20 to 30 minutes a day causes a chemical change in your brain that boosts your mood and alleviates symptoms of SAD.
If you feel down for days at a time and can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, ask for help. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, you turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation, or you feel hopeless or think about suicide. Ask your healthcare provider for resources to help you talk through your symptoms and determine a treatment plan that works for you.