As we head into the winter months, many people start to experience feelings that mimic the symptoms of depression. Some may feel exhausted all the time. Others may feel anxious and irritable and still, others may feel sad and moody. These symptoms may be indicative of seasonal affective disorder, a condition that’s more commonly known as SAD. So what exactly is SAD? What causes SAD symptoms and how do you manage them? Here’s what you need to know.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD or seasonal affective disorder is a form of seasonal depression. The symptoms of both conditions are almost similar. The difference is SAD symptoms generally manifest only with the onset of winter and disappear as winter gives way to spring. On the other hand, depression is not linked to the weather. The symptoms may manifest at any time of the year.
What Causes SAD?
Studies are still ongoing to determine the exact cause of SAD symptoms. Most scientists agree that it is due to the fewer daylight hours in winter. Adequate sunlight exposure is important for boosting the production of mood-regulating and sleep hormones, including serotonin and melatonin. Reduced exposure to sunlight impacts the production of these hormones. It also causes an imbalance of essential brain chemicals. These changes are what trigger the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.
This condition is also known as winter depression, winter blues or seasonal depression because of its association with winter.
7 Things You Can Do To Manage SAD Symptoms
Every person is affected differently by SAD. Some may experience mild symptoms that last only for short periods of time while others may experience more severe symptoms that persist for longer periods. The differences in types and intensity of symptoms mean what works for one person may not work for another. When looking for ways to manage symptoms of SAD, you may have to experiment and try different strategies to find one that works for you.
Start with these 7 tips for managing your SAD symptoms. These are great winter self-care tips even if you don’t experience seasonal affective disorder.
Get as much sunlight exposure as you can
If lack of sunlight exposure is the main cause of SAD, it stands to reason that getting some sunlight every day can help counteract the symptoms. There may be fewer hours of sunshine in winter but you can schedule your day to make the most of those few sunlight hours.
Head outdoors for a walk in the sunshine, whether it’s during your lunch break or early afternoon when you get back from work. Plan outdoor activities on the weekends to get as much sunlight as you can. Even on a cloudy day, your body will get the light it needs if you spend enough time outdoors.
Keep your indoor environment bright
There are several things you can do to brighten up your indoor environment. Decorate your home in bright or light colours that reflect the light and lift your spirits. Avoid dark gloomy colours that will only make you feel even more depressed and sad.
Open up the windows and curtains during the day to let the natural sunlight come indoors and brighten up your space. If you’re home during the day, try to create your workspace or reading corner near a window that gets the most sunlight.
Staying physically active boosts your endorphin levels, lifting your mood and improving your overall sense of well-being. It also helps you sleep better at night so you’re less fatigued the following day.
The best way to reduce your SAD symptoms is by combining sunlight exposure and exercise. All you need to do is to plan your outdoor exercise sessions so you get sunlight along your route. You don’t have to plan intensive exercise routines. A brisk walk, cycling or gardening are just as effective.
Maintain a healthy diet
What you eat is important when you’re trying to manage symptoms of SAD. When you’re feeling down, it’s tempting to reach out for sugary or carb-rich treats. While these may make you feel good at that moment, you’ll almost certainly feel worse when the momentary high wears off.
It is more important than you may realise to maintain a healthy, balanced diet when you’re trying to beat the winter blues. Eat plenty of proteins, fresh fruit and vegetables to counteract the comfort of carbs. Cutting back on sugary foods and avoiding alcohol are just as important.
Use a light therapy lamp
Spending time outdoors to get some sunshine may not be an option for you. This could be either because you have other commitments or you live in a part of the world that does not get sunlight for several days at a time. If that’s the case, using a light therapy lamp can help.
Light therapy lamps or light boxes are specially designed to mimic sunlight. The light they emit is about ten times stronger than the light emitted by regular light bulbs. Sitting in front of a light therapy lamp allows your body to get the light exposure it needs to overcome seasonal depression.
It’s important to speak to your doctor before using a light box so they can recommend the best one for you based on your needs.
Carve out time for self-care
In the hustle and bustle of everyday chores and responsibilities, we often overlook the importance of self-care. Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. The fact is, even a few minutes spent on self-care can make a world of a difference to your mood and well-being. It could be simple things like a few minutes of meditation, writing in your journal, or listening to music. Schedule a massage if that’s what relaxes you or run a warm, soothing bath.
Maybe spend some time every day doing something you love, whether that is knitting, gardening, or reading. Knowing that you have something to look forward to is key to lifting your spirits.
Spend time with family and friends
There’s no doubt that isolation and loneliness exacerbate symptoms of seasonal depression. Studies have proven the benefits of socialising for overall health and well-being. Overcome the temptation to stay under the covers in winter and make an effort to meet up with family and friends in person. In-person interactions are so different and so much more intimate and energising than chatting on the phone or sending text messages.
Invite friends over for a cup of tea or organise a small picnic for the whole family or a group of friends. You don’t have to do this every day or spend hours socialising. Meeting up for a little while every other week can do a lot to lift your spirits and reduce SAD symptoms.
Last but not least, if your symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are so intense that they interfere with your ability to function normally, it’s important to see your doctor for expert medical advice. They may suggest alternative treatment options that are best suited for you depending on your specific symptoms.