Winter is once again upon us. The days are shorter, the air is colder, and the streets are newly lined with twinkling lights. Yet the “most magical time of the year” can actually be the most difficult time for those living with a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. You are most likely familiar with the concept of winter blues, or the feeling of being lethargic or “down” in colder months. With darkness settling in for the season, it is common to experience a lack of energy or motivation. However, if the winter blues begin infiltrating all corners of your world (from personal relationships to work to hobbies), you may be experiencing SAD.
Seasonal Affective Disorder affects almost 50 million Americans each year, with 6% of cases severe enough to require hospitalization. While SAD can show up in anyone, the condition is most common in young women between the ages of 18 and 30. Symptoms of SAD are included but not limited to:
Fatigue or lethargy
Changes in appetite or weight
Craving carbohydrates (aka comfort food)
Decreased sexual desire
Loss of interest in activities
Feeling a lack of purpose
While scientists haven’t determined a specific cause for SAD, research has found that lack of sunlight has a direct affect on specific chemicals in the body related to mood swings. While Vitamin D is naturally found in foods such as oily fish, red meat and egg yolks, it is difficult to maintain healthy vitamin D levels solely from diet. Sunlight exists as the primary natural source of vitamin D for humans. During the spring and summer months, you are most likely able to sustain an ample amount of vitamin D from sun exposure. However, the darker winter months have proved difficult to preserve the proper amount of vitamin D.
So what’s the big deal with a dip in one vitamin? Vitamin D is said to increase production of serotonin, aka the “happy hormone.” Other studies suggest that people with SAD have a higher concentration of melatonin in their bloodstream in the winter months, causing fatigue and lethargy. The decrease in sunlight has the power to disrupt your body’s biological clock, or circadian rhythm, leading to feelings of sleepiness and depression.
It may seem like you are alone in your suffering, yet millions of others are experiencing feelings similar to your own. Reach out to a good friend or family member, or seek professional mental health treatment such as psychotherapy (talk therapy). Try talking to a licensed tele-counselor from the comfort of your home. Sometimes, all you need to do is talk. Here at MyCocun, we match you with one of our trusted therapists specialized to meet you on your specific journey.
As mentioned above, your vitamin D supply can take a massive hit in the winter months. Try adding a vitamin D supplement to your morning routine to keep your levels healthy and to promote an efficient amount of serotonin. Consult your doctor first about what dosage is right for you, everybody is different!
Beginning in the 1980s, light therapy has been a go-to for treating seasonal depression symptoms as it aims to expose affected people to bright light to make up for diminished natural sunlight. This treatment works by sitting in front of a light box (a light source about 20 times brighter than typical indoor lighting) for 30 to 45 minutes every day in the fall and winter seasons. While generally safe for most people, check with your doctor before undergoing light therapy as those with certain eye conditions or those taking certain medications may be more sensitive to light than others.
While you should opt to get outside as much as possible in the winter months, it is often just as important to create a indoor sanctuary for yourself when the weather is rough. With COVID-19 cases on the rise this season, most of us will be staying indoors more than usual. Try sprucing up your space with lush plants and sweet-smelling candles. Play your favorite uplifting music and maybe string up a new set of lights. Invigorating your senses with bright and warming sensations can help boost your mood when you’re feeling low.
Sometimes self care looks like a bubble bath with peppermint tea. Sometimes it looks like getting lost in a good Netflix series, or breaking a sweat with a challenging home workout. Whatever it looks like for you, make sure to bump your self-care practices to the top of your priority list this season. Taking time to focus on your physical and mental health is vital when combating seasonal blues.
While focusing on self-care is essential, feeling a sense of connection is an equally important piece to the puzzle. Take a look at our recent blog article on the importance of human connection to gain a deeper understanding. Depression often sends those affected into bouts of isolation, so consciously putting in effort to socialize is key. Although COVID has limited our opportunities for socialization, there are many ways to feel connected to others. For example, ask a friend to go on a walk, or sign up for a weekly online class.
Have patience with yourself if you are experiencing seasonal depression. Instead of looking at the approaching season as a daunting chapter, see if you can think of it as a healthy period of hibernation. Humans have lived through natural cycles and seasons since the beginning of our existence. Try surrendering to the darkness by viewing the coming months as a time to rest and reset.
Seasonal depression is a common condition, yet it shows up differently in different people. If you or someone you love is showing SAD behavior, don’t wait to take action. Try the holistic remedies discussed above, or seek professional help from a trusted source. If you find yourself or a friend in a life-threatening situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. While SAD may be difficult to prevent, there are countless ways to beat the blues and find ways to enjoy the darker months ahead!
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