Winter tends to put us in a state of hibernation. When it comes, we withdraw into our homes and wait for warmth and sunshine to draw us back out again.
This seasonal change leaves some people feeling a bit down to struggling with depressions like Seasonal Affective Disorder.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression caused by the change in seasons. Typically fall and winter affect most people, but spring and summer can also create SAD symptoms.
Cold weather and shorter days can alter a person’s brain chemistry and internal clock, invoking depressive feelings and lowering serotonin and melatonin levels. Serotonin affects a person’s mood while melatonin affects mood and sleep patterns.
How do you know if you have it?
If you need help differentiating between SAD and a simple case of “cabin fever,” ask yourself if you’re exhibiting any of the following symptoms:
- Lack of energy
- Little motivation to do normally enjoyable activities
- Irritability or mood swings
- Sensitive to rejection
- Difficulty socializing with other people
- Change in appetite or craving comfort foods
- Weight gain
If multiple symptoms apply, and if they occur almost every day, then you may have SAD. If these symptoms aren’t persistent, it’s likely you don’t have SAD but a bit of winter blues. Both, however, are treatable.
How can you treat it?
You can treat either SAD or winter sadness through a variety of professional and home remedies. Here are five different options:
1. Light therapy
Doctors recommend light therapy boxes for people with SAD. They emit a bright light that changes your brain chemistry and boosts your mood like the natural sun does.
While light therapy boxes are good for relieving SAD symptoms and have few side effects, it’s important to talk to your doctor before you purchase one.
2. Natural sunlight
Although a light therapy box is helpful, nothing beats the real thing. Take advantage of the sunshine when it appears this winter.
Adjust your blinds or trim trees to let more sunlight into your home. Install more windows or skylights if your house doesn’t already have enough natural light, and sit near windows as much as possible.
3. Outdoor activities
Don’t let the cold keep you inside. Spend as much time outdoors as you can by taking walks, skating, sledding or even just sitting out in the sun. If you work during the day, take your lunch break outside.
The best time to get out and enjoy the sun is right after you wake up. It’s an instant mood lifter and starts your day off right.
4. Exercise and eat healthy
Regular exercise and eating properly can boost serotonin levels. Physical activity improves your mood, relieves stress and keeps you fit during the long, winter months.
Brightly colored vegetables, fruits and protein-rich foods also increase serotonin. Refrain from eating unhealthy carbohydrates like refined grains and sweets, which eventually drain your energy. Cutting back on caffeine (a serotonin suppressant) is also helpful.
5. Medication and psychotherapy
In more severe cases, medication and therapy are good options. Certain medications or antidepressants treat SAD better than others, so visit a doctor who can determine your specific needs.
Medications often have many side effects and take a few weeks to produce the maximum results, which is why talk therapy is equally important in managing depressive thoughts.
Don’t Spend Winter Alone
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to socialize as much as possible during the cold months. Surround yourself with a figuratively warm environment by spending time with family and friends. Any bit of cheer helps keep the winter blues away.