Feeling blue? This time of year, it’s more common than you might think. Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as SAD) is real, and more common than you might think. Written by Dr. Sherri DeHaas of Amwell.com, this post details four ways to stay positive.
It’s fair to say that people tend to be far more cheery and happy during the summer time, when it’s warm and sunny, rather than the dark and dreary months of winter. But can the seasons really affect our mood and behavior? The answer is YES.
The condition is called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD for short. SAD is a type of depression that affects more than a half-million Americans from late fall to early winter, due in part to the changing of the seasons and a decreased exposure to daylight. It is a disorder that is more common in northern regions where the winter season is longer and more prevalent in women under the age of 30.
As seasons change, there is a shift in our biological internal clock. Our internal clock is basically a complex dance of chemicals in your brain, which influence things like mood, appetite and sleep. Since light can influence this system, seasonal variations in light levels will cause changes and how the system operates. More specifically, this is known to affect the levels of two hormones: serotonin, which helps regulate mood and melatonin, which helps regulate sleep.
When the days are shorter and darker, the production of these hormone increases, causing symptoms such as fatigue, overeating, weight gain, irritability and decreased sex drive. People may also experience feelings of guilt, hopelessness, and physical problems such as headaches heavy weakness in the arms or legs.
If you are diagnosed with the SAD, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Here are some things you can do to overcome the winter blues, without having to move to Yuma, Arizona, aka the world’s sunniest place.
Boost your diet. Eat lots of fruits and vegetable and try to stay away from carbs. It may be hard to do during the holiday season, but we offer some tips here, plus a list of powerhouse foods to boost your immune system and mood.
Move around as much as possible. Regular exercise for 20 minutes, 5 times per week can reduce sickness and keep the winter blues at bay. For those extreme, snow-bound days, focus your energy on a cleaning project like dusting or vacuuming. These tasks can actually provide you with some good exercise and leave you feeling satisfied with your productivity.
Set yourself up for solid sleep. Create a “winter evening schedule” that gives you plenty of time to unwind from your day. Take a hot shower, drink a cup of milk or chamomile tea, and climb into bed with a good book at least an hour before bedtime. Melatonin supplements can also help regulate your sleep-wake cycle, but it’s important to check with a doctor before taking any over the counter supplements.
Get more sunlight. Light therapy without a SAD diagnosis or speaking to a doctor first, but light therapy has been shown to help people dealing with depression all year round. Light therapy consists of a specially made light box, or a light visor that is worn on the head like a cap for 30 minutes each day. It can be combined with medicine and psychotherapy, but again, should only be prescribed by a doctor or therapist.
Pay attention to your mind and body. Counseling can help with the symptoms of depression that is associated with SAD. Your doctor may also recommend acupuncture, yoga and massage therapy, which have all been linked to a relief of SAD symptoms.
If your wintertime blues start to take a noticeable toll on your productivity, it might be time to see a doctor or therapist as he or she can properly diagnose your symptoms and give you more remedies and treatments for SAD and other concerns.
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