If you struggle through wintertime with the winter blues or seasonal depression, you are not alone. Seasonal affective disorder (also known as SAD) affects many of us, making the winter long, lonely and sad (pun intended). What separates SAD from traditional depression is the seasonality of it. Most people with seasonal affective disorder begin to feel better naturally as spring approaches and the days get longer.
The main symptoms of SAD include loss of interest, fatigue, tiredness, weight gain, cravings for sugar or carbohydrates, social withdrawal and general feeling of blah. We all have “blah” days, but with SAD, they occur more often and last throughout the winter. SAD can be mild, moderate or severe. Even mild symptoms can be debilitating and have an effect on your work, relationships and life satisfaction. Luckily, there are a couple things you can do to help get through the winter with ease.
Note: Seek professional help for severe symptoms or where thoughts of suicide or self-harm occur. Medication and/or therapy might be necessary.
Three Holistic Solutions for Seasonal Affective Disorder
That’s right – here are three simple things you can do to boost your mood this winter. It’s best to start these things before symptoms set in to help prevent more serious symptoms.
Take vitamin D:
This one is so simple it’s ridiculous, but can still be hard to actually do. Find a way to make sure you take your vitamin D. Put the bottle by your bed, on your desk or somewhere you will see it every day. The preferred IU is debated. Conventional medicine often say less than 1000 IU is enough, but integrative practitioners say several thousand may be more appropriate. Finding 1000 or 2000 IU D3 should be sufficient, but if you’re unsure, talk to your preferred health care professional.
The one thing you don’t want to do is probably the best thing for you. On a physiological level, exercise is a cure-all. It releases happy hormones, endorphins, which are often lacking with depressive states. Boost your mood, have more energy and get better sleep all from some simple exercise. If you don’t currently have an exercise regimen, now is the time to start. Even simple walking is great exercise. Bonus points for exercising outdoors – take the dog for a walk, sled with your kids, shovel rather than use the snow-blower or take up snowshoeing or skiing.
If you are feeling down and struggling with motivation, enlist someone supportive to help. Make sure they get you up and moving, but be prepared that this could backfire. In the midst of seasonal affective disorder, the last thing you’ll likely want is people trying to make you happy or get you out of the house.
Get some sun:
One of the reasons seasonal affective disorder is most common in winter is lack of sunshine, short days, long nights, lack of vitamin D and the potential for long periods of cold, loneliness and isolation. Beyond exercising and taking supplemental vitamin D, getting outdoors, especially when it’s sunny, is quite powerful. We need the sun on our hands and face, to feel the warmth, to absorb it’s nutrients. Most of us have no problem getting outside enough in the summer, but winter is another matter. Take up a winter sport, commit to going for daily walks and buy the clothing you need to be warm enough. With the right gear, there are little excuses (ok, there are plenty of excuses but don’t let clothing be one of them). Even outdoor exposure on cloudy days can help.
If you can’t get outside or have other issues preventing outdoor exercise or activity, another solution is to get a light box. A light box functions like the sun but it’s a box that goes inside your house. You can get a prescription from your doctor, with instructions on how long to use it per day and how to purchase. You could also rearrange your house to maximize the rooms with winter sunshine. Spend as much time as possible in the sunny places.
Finally, and probably the most fun, is to take a vacation. Choose a time when you suffer most (end of January perhaps) and take a sunny vacation. Pick a place you’re excited about, whether it’s a beach in Mexico or an adventure vacation somewhere warm (ish). Aim for sun, relaxation and activity.
Lastly, be kind to yourself. It’s ok to be down. We can’t (and won’t) all be happy all the time.
Have you ever suffered from seasonal affective disorder? What helped you get through it? Share your experiences in the comments.