The days are now shorter, colder and darker. This trilogy can lead to a certain mood disorder know as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, also known as the “winter blues”. Many people, and I think I’m one of them, suffer from this mood disorder, which can lead to depression if not recognized and treated. Symptoms of SAD typically start in late fall and can last throughout the winter.
Some of the symptoms of S.A.D. include:
- Poor Concentration
- Decreased interest in activities, social events
- Decreased Energy
- Altered sleep patterns (generally oversleeping)
- Weight gain
- Decreased Libido
If this sounds like you, don’t worry, know that it is real and you are not alone. It affects about 10 million Americans a year. Although the exact mechanism is not well known, several theories exist around the lack of natural sunlight, including:
- Lack of light alters our circadian rhythm
- Lack of light alters serotonin levels (decreases), a neurotransmitter that regulates your mood
- Lack of light affects melatonin levels (increases), a hormone that regulates your sleep
The good news is that there are many things you can do to relieve these symptoms. Like many illnesses or disorders, mind over matter is key to taking an active roll in healing.
Here are a few ways to treat SAD and lift your mood:
- LIGHT. Every chance you get, go outside! Soak up all the sunlight you can. But even if its not sunny, go outside anyway,and soak up the energy that abounds, on the earth, in the stars, from the moon, and in the wind. Like many people, when I go to work in the winter, it is dark in the morning, & it is dark when I get out of work. So, on weekends, I take long walks on the beach with my dog, Rocky, and immerse myself in nature. I swear it changes me. If you can’t get outside, light boxes can transform your inside environment and hopefully your mood
- Reduce stress. During the winter months, people with SAD have a reduced ability to handle stress. I recommend you do whatever it takes to reduce stress.
- Meditation – scientifically proven to reduce stress
- Yoga – ditto for Yoga. Sign up for a class. Go regularly. The routine and the community keep your spirits high
- Exercise regularly
- Watch your diet. While people with SAD are more likely to crave sweets and simple carbohydrates, these meals will likely exacerbate symptoms of SAD – sluggish, overweight & inactive. Choose a diet high in protein, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates.
- Turn up the tunes. Research shows that listening to upbeat or cheery music significantly improves mood in the short and long term.
- Plan a vacation. The simple act of planning a vacation has been shown to improve mood.
- If you have persistent symptoms of depression, speak to a doctor.