In the fall and winter, some people experience what is commonly referred to as the winter blues. Also known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD, the change in mood during the colder months can range from mild fatigue to debilitating depression. For those who have SAD, several all-natural things can help combat the symptoms. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the top ways to beat the winter blues and prevent SAD from taking over your life.
Know the Signs of SAD
The first step in treating SAD involves understanding how to recognize the signs. Seasonal affective disorder should be diagnosed by a professional, but a few signs can tell you when it’s time to call your doctor.
SAD occurs when the days are shorter and the temperatures drop. Researchers have theorized that SAD is triggered by a decrease in daylight, which has a detrimental impact on the brain’s serotonin and melatonin levels. Chemical imbalances can lead to feelings of lethargy, sadness, and sleep issues.
Keep in mind that the general winter blues are much more common than an actual SAD diagnosis. However, even if you don’t have SAD, the following signs could be an indication that the seasonal shift to colder, darker days might be affecting you negatively:
- You live further from the equator: if you reside in the northern United States, Canada, or Europe, you may be at an increased risk for seasonal affective disorder. People who live in colder climates are twice as likely to experience SAD symptoms compared to those who live in sunny locales.
- You have sleep issues: as mentioned earlier, less exposure to daylight impacts melatonin, which can wreak havoc on your sleep patterns. You may sleep too much or find it hard to fall asleep at night.
- You are moodier: You may find that around the holidays you are more irritable or sad. Sometimes, relationships can suffer as a result of these mood changes.
- You lack motivation: Your levels of serotonin, also known as the feel-good hormone, can drop during the colder seasons. Lower serotonin levels affect motivation and can manifest as boredom and apathy.
- You are eating more than normal: Some people who suffer from the winter blues use food as a coping mechanism. You might crave more carbohydrates and experience weight gain as a result.
Clean Up Your Diet
The food you eat affects so many things in your body, and if you have issues with SAD, cleaning up your diet is one way to combat the winter blues. You may find that you are constantly stressed and this, in turn, affects your mood and can make you feel more depressed. Your body naturally craves foods you associate with happiness, which may cause you to overeat or indulge too much in foods that are not good for you. If you find yourself consuming more sugar or carbohydrate-laden foods, making some changes can improve your mood and energy levels.
Start by being conscious of what you are eating. Keep an electronic or paper journal and document what you eat throughout the day, as well as how you felt after you finished the meal. Take some time to read nutrition labels and learn to recognize harmful ingredients. For example, sugar goes by many names and is often hidden if you don’t know what to look for. Generally, an ingredient ending in -ose (sucrose, glucose, maltose, etc.) will appear in foods with high sugar content. UCLA researchers found that too much sugar can worsen depression by slowing down brain activity. This explains why many people experience a boost of energy after eating sugar, followed by a crash soon after.
Make an effort to consume whole foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Avoid processed foods that can contain high amounts of sugars and carbohydrates.
Get a Light Box
The shorter days in the winter months means that we get less exposure to sunlight. The sun’s rays give us Vitamin D, and many people find that they don’t get enough of this important vitamin during the colder months. As temperatures drop, people tend to stay indoors more often, and this lack of sun exposure can worsen SAD symptoms.
One remedy for reduced sun exposure is a lightbox. Also called phototherapy boxes, lightboxes are designed to mimic the rays of the sun, but in an indoor environment. There are plenty of options available at various price points, but it’s important to make sure that the lightbox emits low levels of UV light and provides up to 10,000 lumens of illumination.
To get the most benefit out of lightbox therapy, make sure to use it within one hour of waking up. A session should last between 20 and 30 minutes, and you should make sure that the lightbox is not too close to your body. Place it between 16 and 24 inches from your face. Keep your eyes open when using the lightbox, but avoid staring directly into the light.
If you find that you suffer from a depressed mood year after year during the same season, you may have seasonal affective disorder. Even if your mood changes aren’t severe and you are not diagnosed with SAD, the tips outlined here can still help improve your mood during the fall and wintertime.
Make an effort to control your diet and try out a lightbox. In addition, you can also engage in mood-boosting activities like yoga, hiking, or meditation. If you find that you are still struggling with a depressed mood, consider reaching out to a professional who can provide the necessary guidance to conquer SAD.