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Winter used to be synonymous with feeling sad and not like myself.
The holidays would come and go. And so would my spirits — feeling like I was constantly in a state of doom and gloom.
I truly dreaded winter time because of this. As I got older, I started to realize that I was not alone. Others felt the stranglehold of winter’s grip around their hearts and I started to feel something new…
And for many years, I lived in normalcy where I would curse the winter and grump my way through my day. That was until I learned about what it really meant to be SAD.
Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) is a form of seasonal depression triggered by the change in seasons that occurs primarily in winter. The shorter the days are, the more you might be prone to this phenomenon. I felt massive relief in knowing that there was a reason I felt not like myself. I wasn’t broken. But then that left me questioning…
Why do some people get SAD? I found that experts aren’t certain, but some think that seasonal changes disrupt the circadian rhythm — the 24-hour clock that regulates how we function during sleeping and waking hours, causing us to feel energized and alert sometimes and drowsy at other times.
Yet, another theory is that the changing seasons disrupt hormones such as serotonin and melatonin. These hormones regulate your sleep, mood, and feelings of well-being. It also turns out that women and young people are more likely to experience SAD, as are those who live farther away from the equator. People with a family history or diagnosis of depression or bipolar disorder are also more susceptible.
What does SAD look like? According to valleyrecovery.com, common symptoms include:
- Feelings of extreme hopelessness, depression, sadness
- Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
- Withdrawing from social activities and/or hobbies
- Inability to tolerate stress
- Difficulty focusing or procrastination
- Cravings for sugar and carbohydrates
The light started to turn on and I quickly realized two things:
- SAD can be treated and managed.
- SAD needs to be treated and managed — all forms of depression limit people’s ability to live their lives to the fullest, to enjoy their families, and to function well at work.
Here are 8 things you can do to start releasing SAD’s grip on you:
1. Tidy Up Your Nutrition
Nutrition is the first place to look. Yes, there are specific foods and nutrients that will help you feel better, but I think the real power is in looking at what you are already taking in. Keeping your blood sugar balanced is key to stable mood and hormone balancing. Limit the amount of sugar that you consume because sugar is directly linked to brain health. A sugar high may have you feeling good momentarily, but will knock your blood sugar out of whack. Once the sugar high wears out, your blood sugar will drop and increase lethargic feelings and irritability.
You also want to look at the amount of processed foods and gluten that you have in your diet. Eliminating gluten from your diet can heal your gut health, balance your blood sugar, clear up brain fog, and balance your hormones.
Eat consistent meals to keep your body fueled and and your energy high. Not eating consistently can cause dips in your blood sugar and you might notice higher levels of feeling “hangry.”
2. Listen To Music That Makes You Feel Good
One of the most immediate ways to alter your mood is to listen to music. You can probably remember a time you put on a song to elevate your mood or to even trigger sadness. Music therapy has been used as a medicinal alternative for a wide range of health problems from autism to healing from a surgery. Remember the power of music — it can increase sadness so choose music that is lighter and not tied to painful memories.
3. Get More Vitamin D
Vitamin D has many health benefits. It is also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” because your body produces it when your skin is exposed to UV light. Unfortunately, you may not be able to head outdoors once the temperature drops, which greatly decreases your daily dose of vitamin D. Low levels of vitamin D are linked to SAD in research reported in 2014 in the journal Medical Hypotheses. Adding in a supplemental vitamin D may be helpful to release the depression.
4. Keep A Gratitude Journal (Or, Any Journal)
Writing down your thoughts can have a positive effect on your mood because it can help to get your negative feelings out of your system. What is even more powerful for depression is keeping a gratitude journal to help you see what is good and bright in your life.
Having trouble knowing where to start in your journaling journey? Click here to get you started.
5. Stick To A Schedule
Sleeping at night can really feel like a chore with those dealing with SAD. And if you can’t sleep at night, getting up in the morning may be even harder. Maintaining a regular schedule improves sleep, which can help alleviate symptoms of SAD.
Keeping a regular schedule will also expose you to light at consistent and predictable times. And eating at regular intervals can help you watch your diet and not overeat. Many people who live with SAD find they gain weight in the winter because of this, especially if you are prone to emotional eating.
6. Add Aromatherapy
If you like essential oils and smelly stuff, then you are in luck — Aromatherapy may also help those with seasonal disorder. Essential oils can influence the area of the brain that’s responsible for controlling moods and the body’s internal clock that influences sleep and appetite.
You can simply add a few drops of essential oils to your bath at night to help you relax or plug your diffuser in and left the smell waft through the air. Click here to read more ways you can use specific oils for symptoms of SAD.
7. Let The Sunshine In
Getting outside as much as you can during the day and take advantage of what sunlight there is can dramatically improve SAD or any kind of depression. If you live where it’s cold, be sure to bundle up, but take a stroll around the block at noon or soon after — that’s when the sun is brightest.
Also, when you’re indoors, keep your blinds open to let as much natural light in as you can. You want to be in bright environments whenever possible to stimulate the brain.
8. Use A Light Therapy Box
Light Therapy Boxes give off light that mimics sunshine and can help in the recovery from SAD. The light from the therapy boxes is significantly brighter than that of regular light bulbs, and it’s provided in different wavelengths.
Try sitting in front of a light box for about 30 minutes a day. This will stimulate your body’s circadian rhythms and suppress its natural release of melatonin. Research shows that most people find light therapy to be most effective if used when they first get up in the morning.
Seasonal Affect Disorder does not have to be something that you suffer with. You can take back control of your life. Remember, exercise and socialization and having something to look forward to are just as important as any of these other tips above. But if you feel like you do those things and you are still feeling stuck, give the tips above a try and see how you can begin lifting the heavy cloud of winter blues!
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