Struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder? Here Are 5 Tips on How to Ease It!
November 3, 2021 by Jason Oei
Out of the four seasons, winter is either your favorite, or the one you despise the most. While we may dislike winter because of how cold it can get, it’s much more serious for some people. Aside from physical conditions, such as arthritis, cold weather and winter season can affect one’s mental health, too. There is a form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which occurs at the same time each year, usually throughout the autumn and winter months.
People with Seasonal Affective Disorder may become a completely different person than they normally are during spring and summer. SAD can affect your mood, sleep, appetite, and energy levels—taking a toll on all aspects of your life from your relationships and social life to work, school, and your sense of self-worth.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is more than just what people may see as “winter blues,” and it is linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain, triggered by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight during winter. People who live far from the equator are more likely to experience SAD. In the United States alone, it affects 5% of adults and young adults (age 18-30).
The symptoms are similar to depression, such as:
Constantly feeling tired.
Significant changes in appetite and sleeping patterns (either too much or not at all).
Loss of interest in the activities once enjoyed.
Feelings of guilt and worthlessness.
Being agitated and anxious.
Inexplicable body pain and aches.
Using drugs and alcohol as an escape.
When it gets extreme, it can lead to suicidal thoughts as well.
What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder? There are several contributing factors, one of them being our body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm. It responds to changes between light and dark to regulate our sleep, mood, and appetite. As seasons change, our circadian rhythm shifts, too. This can cause us to be out of step with our daily schedule. During winter, it may feel like the days grow short and the nights last longer, leaving us feeling uncomfortable and disoriented at times.
Another reason why people develop Seasonal Affective Disorder is because your brain may produce less serotonin and more melatonin during winter due to reduced sunlight. Serotonin is a hormone that regulates your mood, while melatonin is produced by the brain to help you sleep. So, when it gets dark and chilly, your brain might produce too much melatonin and not enough serotonin, causing you to feel drowsy and unenergetic.
Fortunately, Seasonal Affective Disorder is not a hopeless condition. Although it might not be easy, it is still manageable and treatable. Take a look at these 5 things you can do to deal with SAD.
Be honest with yourself.
Wait, what does this have to do with having SAD? Well, it’s important that you acknowledge your struggle first. There’s no need to feel ashamed about it. If the symptoms are making it hard for you to carry on your day-to-day activities, acknowledge it and allow yourself to seek support.
Expose yourself to as much light as possible.
Whether it’s natural sunlight or light therapy, make sure that you get as much light as you can. Head outside every once in a while during the day. If you’re working from home, perhaps you can sit near the window and make your work environment bright.
You may also consider doing light therapy, which is a form of therapy where you expose yourself to a light therapy box that emits a very bright light (and filters out harmful ultraviolet rays). Sit in front of the light box for about 20 to 30 minutes a day (preferably within one hour after you wake up). Doing this regularly may result in a chemical change in your brain that boosts your mood and alleviates symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Using a dawn simulator.
Dawn simulators are basically alarm clocks, but instead of waking you up by blasting loud alarms, these devices produce light that gradually increases in intensity, mimicking the way the sun gently rises each morning. Different models of dawn simulators exist, but the best ones use full-spectrum light, which is closest to natural sunlight.
Eat well and consume enough vitamin D.
Winter is closely linked to the holiday season, and it is so tempting to consume so many sweet treats during the holidays. But too much sugar can cause a brain fog and decreased energy, leaving you feeling sluggish. So, it’s important to pay attention to your eating habits. You need enough nutrition and vitamins, especially vitamin D, to reduce depressive symptoms.
Be active and social as much as possible.
Yes, we get it… it’s so much cozier to stay inside, snuggling up in bed during winter. However, try to do light exercises at home and outdoor activities when you can, while also socializing and staying connected with your loved ones. These will help your brain produce chemicals like serotonin and endorphins, which will improve your mood and decrease anxiety. If necessary, you may also seek professional help and talk to a mental health expert in order to ease SAD symptoms.
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