Do you feel off during the winter? Have you noticed you start to feel depressed as the days get shorter and colder? Are you craving carbohydrates and sugary foods more than usual? Is your motivation slowly decreasing as winter passes by? Do you have trouble falling and staying asleep? Are you moodier than you normally are? Don’t worry there is a perfect explanation for this. Many people struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) also known as Winter Depression. This disorder tends to start late fall and early winter.
The exact cause of SAD is unknown, but it is believed to be caused by shorter days. Sunlight is essential for our mental health because it stimulates the hypothalamus part of our brain. This brain region is responsible for regulating our circadian rhythm. This is our body’s internal 24-hour sleep-wake system. Researchers believe the lack of sunlight throws off our circadian rhythm by producing excess amount of melatonin, also known as the sleep hormone. This in turn makes you feel sluggish, moody, lethargic, and melancholic. Leaving you will feeling depressed.
Winter depression also affects your cognitive function. Impacting your memory and concentration. You may find it difficult to find the correct words. People may even notice you are a lot more forgetful than usual and it’s harder for you to maintain attention. But don’t fret. There are many things you can do to improve your overall mood and minimize the impact of SAD. The following is a list of things you can do during the winter:
- Light therapy: also known as phototherapy is an effective method to treat SAD by exposing yourself to artificial light. It is important to note, tanning beds are not an alternative. You do not need a prescription to buy a light therapy box, but it is best for you to ask a doctor or therapist to see if this is an option for you. If you purchase a light box be sure to read the instructions carefully for safe use.
Dawn simulator: is a device that gradually increases the amount of light in your bedroom to simulate the rising sun. It is a light box that by the time you get out of bed. The therapeutic effects have been completed. Just like the light therapy it is suggested for you to ask your doctor for their opinion.
- Increase the amount of light you’re exposed to: You can sit next to a window at work or at home. If possible, keep the blinds or curtains open during the day. It might not be sunny outside, but it is better than nothing. Also try to go outside and get some sunlight before 10 am.
- Exercising: It is extremely beneficial for you to schedule at least 30 minutes of exercise 3 to 4 times a week. Exercising releases endorphins, a feel-good chemical in your brain. This will improve your mood and increase your overall energy.
- Socializing: SAD makes you want to withdraw yourself from others, but do not do that. Socializing with fun friends and family can help you get out of the funk. It will lift your mood and at the same time distract you from depressive type of thoughts.
- Eating healthy: One of the characteristics of winter depression is that it increases unhealthy food cravings. So instead, eat a balanced meal. Make sure you get enough fruits and vegetables in your diet. Believe or not, you are what you eat and eating correctly is beneficial. Don’t be afraid to eat holiday sweets, such as, pies, cakes, and chocolate. Just make sure to do it in moderation.
- Vitamin D supplements: I am not a doctor, so please visit your physician or pharmacist and ask them which vitamins they recommend, and which dosage is best for you. If you have a medical condition and/or take medications be sure to mention it. Vitamin D supplements aid in helping your body to produce serotonin and dopamine. Making you feel better.
- Medication and psychotherapy: Don’t wait for SAD to become overwhelming. It is okay to ask for help and there is no shame in taking medication. If you feel like your situation is getting out of control seek professional help.
- Travel: If you can afford it. Take a vacation to warm tropical places during the winter. This is help you minimize SAD symptoms.
If you struggle with winter depression. Know you are not alone. Many people throughout the world, especially in northern countries battle with it. Take solace in knowing it won’t last forever. Before you know it. Spring and summer will have arrived, and you will feel better. I hope the list above can help you mitigate SAD symptoms and provide a better understanding.
Feel free to also read: Is Depression More Common These Days?
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