Feeling down from time-to-time this winter season? If so, you’re certainly not alone.
With lower temperatures, less daylight and even holiday-related stress, it can be easy to fall victim to the winter blues. Then consider the compounding issues from the ongoing pandemic, and it’s even more likely that people are feeling down this winter.
It’s normal to experience a range of different emotions throughout your day-to-day life, and yes, sadness is one of them. If you’re having persistent feelings of sadness, though, it may be something more serious. When these ongoing feelings correlate directly with a certain time of year, it may be seasonal affective disorder.
What is seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?
The Mayo Clinic describes symptoms of seasonal affective disorder—also known as seasonal depression—as having depleted energy and experiencing moodiness beginning and ending at the same time each year (most often during the fall and winter months).
Other symptoms may include:
- Having a lack of interest in activities you typically enjoy
- Experiencing difficulty concentrating
- Oversleeping and/or overeating
What causes SAD?
As noted above, decreased daylight during the winter months is believed to be a major contributing factor for SAD. For one thing, the lack of sunlight has the ability to throw off your internal clock, which can result in feelings of depression.
And on a chemical level, the decreased sunlight can reduce the serotonin levels in your brain that are responsible for regulating your mood. With your body’s melatonin levels possibly being impacted by the changing of the seasons, you may also be experiencing sleep disruptions and moodiness.
What should I do if I’m experiencing symptoms of SAD?
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, a number of different treatments can be effective:
Whether you’ve already sought out therapy or medication to help treat SAD—or you’re planning on doing so soon—there are a number of other things you can try to help improve your situation.
Read on below for six tips on how to help manage SAD this winter.
1. Get more natural sunlight
Light therapy is one solution, but don’t forget about natural sunlight.
Depending on where you live, extremely cold temperatures can be a major deterrent to getting outdoors more often. It’s tempting to cozy up inside as much as possible!
But as Everyday Health notes, making the effort to brave the cold weather can be worth it. By going out for a walk at around noon, you can soak up as much sun as possible during the peak daylight time.
And once you return indoors, be sure to open your blinds to brighten up your day with as much additional sunlight as possible.
2. Exercise frequently
Speaking of getting more sunlight, why not increase your exposure while exercising outdoors?
While we often think of exercise as being beneficial for our physical health, the truth is, physical activity can do wonders for your mental wellbeing, too.
According to Verywell Mind, exercise has the potential to reduce symptoms of various mental health challenges—including everything from depression and anxiety to panic disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.
When you get up, get moving and start exercising, you may experience some of the following benefits:
- Increased confidence
- Reduced stress hormones/better ability to cope with stress
- Distraction from troubling thoughts and emotions
- Access to a social network
- Reduced illness
Feeling intimidated by working out? There’s a physical activity that works for everybody (both indoors and outdoors):
- Boxing/martial arts
- Cycling (regular or stationary)
3. Increase vitamin D intake
The reason it’s important to get more sunlight is that it promotes the production of vitamin D in our bodies. But that’s not the only way you can benefit from this important vitamin.
According to Healthline, 40% of American residents are vitamin D-deficient. In addition to taking supplements, Healthline says you can increase your body’s supply of this essential nutrient by adding the following foods to your diet:
- Herring and sardines
- Cod liver oil
- Canned tuna
- Egg yolks
- Fortified foods (such as cereal/oatmeal, milk, soy milk and orange juice)
4. Keep a daily journal
According to Cone Health, journaling can be an effective strategy for improving your outlook.
It’s easy to feel like you’re stuck on autopilot with your day-to-day tasks—especially in the later winter months when the monotony is at its worst. Quickly, your mood can become negative.
By keeping a journal of the things you’re grateful for each day, you can help manage your emotions. And by being more aware of the things that are making you tick, you’ll be better prepared to improve the situation.
5. Cut back on alcohol consumption
While some may be prone to overeating to combat feelings of depression, increased alcohol intake poses an additional risk.
As Healthline points out, alcohol boosts dopamine and may make you feel better at first, but there are other chemical effects. With decreased levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in your brain, you may soon find that your cranky wintertime mood has gotten even worse.
So if you find yourself having one too many lately, consider taking a break—or at least cutting back—and replacing the habit with another one that’s more healthy.
6. Embrace the winter
Sure, the winter has its downsides, but like everything in life—it’s only temporary. You might as well enjoy it, right?
Rather than daydreaming about those sunnier, happier times, simply embracing some of winter’s upsides can be helpful. They even coined a term for the idea in Denmark (where they’re experts at dealing with the cold): it’s called “hygge.”
According to Lifehacker, hygge involves going all out to cozy up indoors with friends and family during the harsh winter months. It can include activities like bundling up in sweaters and under blankets, enjoying seasonal foods and beverages and even hanging out by the fireplace (if you’re lucky enough to have one).
Take some time to enjoy the winter while you can, because before you know it, it will be over again.
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While the strategies outlined above can be helpful for improving your mood, they’re no replacement for treatment. If you’re struggling with ongoing symptoms of depression or other mental health issues, contact a mental health professional today.
Photo by Alberto Casetta via Unsplash.com
Concerned about seasonal depression and considering speaking with a mental health professional?