During the long, cold, mostly gloomy days of winter, it can be easy to start to feel gloomy yourself. If you’re noticing that during the winter months you start to feel sad, anxious, moody, or are losing interest in activities you normally enjoy, you may have what is called SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder, or seasonal depression.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
While the actual causes of SAD are unknown, experts tend to agree that it has something to do with the lack of sunlight over the winter. Symptoms like the ones mentioned above, along with gaining weight, chronic tiredness and trouble concentrating generally can start in the fall in September or October and last until April or even May.
Because the sun is out for a much shorter period of time through the winter, this lack of light can upset circadian rhythms, which control our sleep-wake patterns. It can also affect the chemical serotonin in our brain, which causes changes in our moods. It’s difficult to diagnose SAD, but in general, if you’ve noticed that you’ve been more depressed or showing other symptoms throughout the winter months for the past two years in a row, or perhaps it runs in your family, it’s possible you have it. A mental health assessment and blood tests for conditions like hypothyroidism should also be administered to rule out other issues.
Seasonal depression is more likely to affect women, especially those who live in northern areas where the sun is not very strong throughout the winter. For the elderly, the months following the holidays can be more difficult than other times of the year, too. The happy times and memories the holidays brought can be easily replaced by feelings of sadness and loneliness once the festivities are over.
How to Stay Positive through the Winter Months
However, there are ways to boost your mood and keep a positive attitude throughout the winter. The following techniques have been known to alleviate Seasonal Affective Disorder in many people:
- Add more vitamin D to your diet. Since we get vitamin D from sun exposure, it can be difficult to maintain the right levels over the winter months. Plus, a lack of vitamin D can lead to a greater risk for osteoporosis. Add foods like salmon, egg yolks and lean red meat to your diet to consume more vitamin D.
- Try light therapy. Light therapy uses what is called a “light box”, a fluorescent lamp that gives off light similar to sunlight. These lamps can help decrease the amount of melatonin in your system and regulate neurotransmitters like serotonin and epinephrine.
- Exercise regularly. Regular exercise helps boost your mood and will improve your sleep habits. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day- you can even break it up into ten minute intervals when you’re just getting started.
- Talk to someone. Reach out to friends or family when you start to feel isolated or lonely. Or, join a support group or head to a counselor for therapy. Just talking about how you feel can improve your spirits, plus you’re getting the social interaction you need, too.
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