For some people, when winter hits, they may feel more depressed than usual. These feelings and emotions can be tied to Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), or seasonal depression, which is more than just a dark cloud hanging over your head. Use these simple at-home tips to regulate your mood for happier days all winter long.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.)?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) is a mood disorder that occurs for people in climates where there is less sunlight at certain times of the year. Symptoms of S.A.D. can include difficulty waking up in the morning, craving for comfort foods
, feeling cold all the time, and social withdrawal.
The main culprits in S.A.D. are serotonin and melatonin, which are vital chemicals that regulate mood and sleep. Serotonin is produced by the pituitary gland and is responsible for modulating good mood, emotion, sleep and appetite. Melatonin regulates your body’s circadian cycles of sleep and waking. When melatonin is too low, it disrupts sleep. When the nights grow longer and the sun is in short supply, production of these two important chemicals dwindles.
If you think you or someone you know may be experiencing S.A.D., you may feel more energetic and happy in the springtime and more depressed in the wintertime. Happily, most of its symptoms are easily addressed with some simple exercise, diet, and lifestyle changes.
- 1. Take the Right Supplements
Studies show that a lack of Vitamin D correlates with higher incidences of wintertime depression and that people who have S.A.D. see significant improvement in their symptoms when they get the recommended daily intake of Vitamin D. Check with your healthcare provider to determine the best levels for you.
Additionally, melatonin supplements before bed can help those with S.A.D. symptoms get a full night's sleep by modifying its production in the brain.
- 2. Alter Your Diet
Winter darkness and cold makes us crave comfort foods which are usually high in sugar, salt and fat. Dark chocolate or raw cacao, however, contains tryptophan, which is a precursor to serotonin. So, next time you're craving a triple helping of mac and cheese on a dark winter’s night, have a couple squares of decadent dark chocolate instead, guilt free!
Also, try to include more essential fatty acids in your diet. EFAs play a crucial role in brain function and mood and are known to boost serotonin levels. Good sources of EFAs include cod liver oil, salmon, mackerel, nuts and seeds.
- 3. Exercise for One Minute Every Hour
Moving your body and exercising warms you up, boosts circulation and immunity, and increases your production of phenylethylamine (PEA), a natural chemical that has been linked to the regulation of physical energy and mood.
If you find it hard to do full exercise routines, try to do at least one minute of vigorous exercise every hour during the day. You can set an alarm on your phone or download the One Minute Change app for reminders. The main point is to get your blood and energy pumping, which produces more hormones and boosts your mood. The best exercises are ones that get you up and moving like jumping jacks, squats, pushups, and running in place.
- 4. Stay Social
Social withdrawal is a common reaction to the stress of depression. Feelings of isolation, in that circular logic of the depressed mind, tend to make us crave more isolation.
In times when we have to quarantine and face lockdowns, this may be difficult to do but there are still ways to stay social online and practice safe social-distancing. Try to schedule at least one weekly video call with a family member or friend to stay in touch and release your stress. You can also download the Quarantine Chat app to socialize with people in quarantine around the world.
- 5. Use Full Spectrum Light
Lack of exposure to sunlight is the key cause of S.A.D. On a sunny day you are exposed to nearly 70,000 lux (units of light). On cloudy days light levels can decrease to 5,000 lux. Fluorescent lighting, in your home or office, only provides 15-200 lux.
Full spectrum lighting simulates natural sunlight. Researchers believe this type of light causes a chemical change in the brain that lifts your mood and eases the symptoms of S.A.D. Exposure to a light box for a minimum of 30 minutes each morning is usually enough for most people to feel the benefits throughout the day.
There are a variety of natural or full spectrum lights, from desktop units to individual light bulbs that are very effective for S.A.D. symptoms. Light box therapy alone may be effective, but can also be combined with any of the other remedies above.
Adopting these new habits will not only help you make it over the winter slump, but may also improve your overall physical and emotional health year-round.