As we move into a more festive time of year we also experience fewer hours of sunlight. This seasonal change isn’t always met with the most festive of spirits. According to Mental Health America, about 5% of the United States suffers from a subtype of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression, and it’s much more significant than a general case of the “winter blues”. Thankfully, there are many remedies to help soothe symptoms of SAD and make the winter months more joyous.
Seasonal Affective Disorder- what is it and what causes it?
It’s not uncommon to feel out of sorts with changes in daylight. After all, these changes (no matter how routine) affect your circadian cycle, which is like an internal clock in your brain. This clock responds to light and dark and affects everything from your hormones (mainly melatonin) to your sleep schedule (to learn more about circadian cycles, check out this article)During the winter months, you may start to feel more sluggish, “hazy”, or fatigued. In other words, maybe you’ve caught a case of the “‘winter blues”. These are all normal symptoms and often ease up as your body adjusts to the seasonal change. But what if your symptoms don’t ease up and even worsen? Then you may have SAD.
Although it is still not one hundred percent certain what causes SAD, most current research points its finger at fluctuations in two hormones known as serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is your feel-good hormone and can be reduced during periods of less daylight. Subsequently, lower levels of serotonin can lead to depression. In addition, melatonin is your body’s sleep hormone and can also affect your mood. It is secreted at higher levels in the dark. This works great when you want to sleep, but it can mess with your head when it’s being secreted throughout waking hours.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder can look and act suspiciously like depression, so the signs and symptoms are similar. The obvious difference between SAD and depression is that SAD truly is seasonal and alleviates as winter transitions into spring. Some other unique symptoms of SAD include:
Cravings for carbohydrates
A general increase in appetite
Weight gain, and;
With SAD, you may also experience other symptoms more common in depression. According to the National Institue of Mental Health, these might include:
Feeling depressed most of every day
Losing interest in enjoyable activities
Having problems with sleep
Low energy levels
Feeling hopeless or worthless
Having difficulty concentrating
Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
10 Ways to Soothe Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
No matter what your symptoms are, one thing is certain, SAD is difficult to manage. Thankfully, there are many things you can do to help soothe the symptoms of SAD and joyously own every season of your life! Unsure of where to start? Here are 10 ways to soothe symptoms of SAD:
"Winterize" your mind. Just like you prepare your home and garden for colder months, it might be helpful to do the same for your mind. According to psychologist Kim Burgess, PhD, “It’s better to set yourself up for the winter season by starting in the fall season — doing enjoyable activities, initiating friend group chats and outings, choosing fun hobbies, and engaging in clubs or community service.”
Give bright light therapy a try! Exposure to artificial light can help keep your circadian rhythm on track and it’s considered a first-line treatment option for SAD, according to a review published in 2017 in the Einstein Journal of Biology and Medicine. One way to try bright light therapy is by using a light therapy box.
Use a dawn simulator instead of a traditional alarm clock (or your phone!)
Practice aromatherapy in your house with essential oils like bergamot and lavender that have been shown to reduce the symptoms of SAD.
Be consistent with a daily schedule. With SAD, it’s important to stick with a consistent bedtime and waketime. Doing so will expose your body to predictable intervals of daylight.
Get Moving! Even just 10 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous exercise can make a huge difference in your overall mood- especially if you can get outside!
Soak up the sunshine. Try to take walks during peak sunlight hours (around 12 pm). If you’re at home, keep your blinds open throughout the day and try to be near your windows as much as possible.
Consider Avoiding Alcohol. If you’re feeling down, reaching for a bottle of wine can seem like a great idea. However, alcohol exacerbates symptoms of SAD, making you feel worse. Using alchohol as a coping mechansim can also lead to addiction.
Keep a Journal. Writing down your thoughts can be a simple, yet powerful, way to relief negative thoughts, emotions, and moods. You can also use it to help keep track of things that make you feel happy and triggers that cause you to feel worse.
Talk with your doctor about potential medications and supplements. If you feel you are experiencing symptoms of SAD, it’s important that you talk openly with your doctor. They may recommend antidepressants or even supplements, like Vitamin D, to help soothe SAD symptoms in addition to other strategies listed above.
Winter months are filled with joyous occasions and moments. However, if you’re suffering from symptoms of SAD, this time of year can be scary and painful. Thankfully, with a little preparation and some internal reflection, you can beat SAD, and find peace and happiness all year long!