13 Tips for Dealing with SAD
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, affects millions of people every year as the seasons begin to change, the days get colder, and the nights get longer. SAD is a form of depression that occurs during the winter months, and doctors estimate that it affects a large percentage of the population – five percent of people studied say that their SAD interferes with their life on a daily basis.
Even if you haven’t been to a doctor or health professional who can diagnose you with this disorder, you may already be noticing some of the symptoms cropping up in your everyday life. You’re not alone in dealing with this problem. We’ve gathered some tips from experts to help you survive this winter season.
Get to Know Some Common Symptoms
It’s hard to know how to treat your seasonal affective disorder if you don’t even know that you have it. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some common symptoms before winter hits, so you can keep an eye on your behavior, and seek help from a doctor or therapist if you start to notice yourself deviating from your normal habits.
Some common symptoms of SAD are lethargy, weight gain, loss of interest in activities, an inability to focus, and an overall lack of energy.
Expose Yourself to More Light
While the research is still ongoing, what scientists have been able to pinpoint about SAD is that it’s connected to the way we view rays of light through our eyes in the winter. Sunlight helps regulate our internal body clock. It’s possible that the cause of SAD could be an elevation in the levels of the hormone melatonin or a drop in the neurotransmitter serotonin – both of which happen when the days get shorter and we find ourselves exposed to much less natural light. One way that you can mitigate your SAD is to expose yourself to more light.
Find Some Artificial Sunlight
Exposing yourself to as much natural light as possible is essential during the long winter months if you want to keep SAD at bay. But if that’s not possible, it may be worth it for you to purchase a sun lamp – a special light fixture that replicates natural light. This treatment has been proven to be effective in treating patients with SAD. Just sit in front of the light fixture for 30 minutes to two hours a day.
Stay Close to Family and Friends
When you’re suffering from depression or seasonal affective disorder, it can feel overwhelming. It’s easy to feel alone, like you’re the only person in the world who is suffering. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and most of us have a whole community of people who are eager to help and support us in any way they can. Stay close to friends and family if you feel the symptoms of SAD coming on, and don’t be afraid to reach out to someone and explicitly ask for what you need.
Get Outside Every Day
Getting outside every day, regardless of the temperature or the weather, can make a huge difference in your overall mental health, especially if you’ve been diagnosed with SAD.
The first benefit that you’ll get from being outside is that you’ll expose yourself to more light, which can help regulate your melatonin and serotonin levels. The second benefit is social – being outside among people every day can help you feel less alone. Even making casual conversation with a barista or the checkout person at your local grocery store can give you a much-needed boost that talking to people via technology just can’t replicate.
Invest in Some Good Winter Clothing
Winter is tough on clothing. Slogging through snow every day, walking through road salt, and getting blown by the wind can take its toll on your clothing. If you invest in good quality winter clothes, you’ll never dread going outside. If you pick the right pieces, you may even be excited to get all bundled up. If you have a neutral-colored winter coat, invest in some colorful accessories like mitts, a hat, or a squishy, warm scarf. These little touches will put a smile on your face every morning.
Find a Winter Exercise Routine
Exercising is easy in the summer. The weather is mild, and you can run or walk outside, play sports, or ride a bike easily. In the winter, people find a million excuses not to exercise. The gym is too far away, it’s too cold to run, or it’s not as much fun running in the dark.
It’s true – exercising is way harder in the winter. However, as much as it is harder, it’s also way more important to stay active during the long winter months. Exercise releases endorphins that help regulate your mood, and a routine of regular physical activity is extremely important in keeping SAD at bay.
Make Plans You’ll Be Excited About
The winter season can be long and dreary, but luckily for you, there are a huge number of holidays that you can focus on to keep yourself busy. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day are all spread out pretty much equally through the winter, so there’s always something to look forward to. Planning fun activities and looking forward to time spent with family and friends can help motivate you to get through the long winter days.
Keep Stress to a Minimum
While it’s important to make exciting plans in order to keep your seasonal affective disorder under control, it’s important not to let those plans bring too much stress into your life.
Manage stress in both your personal and professional life by spending some time before winter begins setting goals and getting organized for the upcoming months. Investing in a paper planner or organizational apps will help you have a sense of your schedule and upcoming commitments. Having a to-do list, or a list of goals can also help you stay on track if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Avoid Simple Carbohydrates
Many people experience weight gain, a lack of energy, and lethargy during the winter months, especially if you’ve been diagnosed with SAD. It may be tempting to give in to your cravings for hearty and delicious fare during the winter, but if you find yourself reaching for cookies, bread, cake, and other sugary, simple carbohydrates every time, you won’t stay full for long.
If you’re craving comfort food this winter, make sure you give yourself some complex carbs as well as protein – like a delicious baked sweet potato topped with roasted nuts and seeds, or a thick slice of whole-grain bread spread with mashed avocado.
Take Your Vitamins
Many people who suffer from ongoing SAD often find that their symptoms are alleviated when they start taking a regiment of vitamins, including vitamin D.
Vitamin D is found in fatty fish like mackerel, herring, and sardines, but it’s also made spontaneously in the body when our skin is exposed to sunlight. 80-90% of our vitamin D is produced in this way, so if you aren’t being exposed to sun on a regular basis, you’re probably vitamin D deficient. A doctor can diagnose a vitamin D deficiency with a simple blood test and supplements can be obtained in any pharmacy.
Go Somewhere Warm
A lot of people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder often find their symptoms are alleviated by a visit to somewhere warm and sunny. Spending a few days in the sunshine on a beach somewhere has many benefits, the most important being all of the sun that you’re absorbing and turning in to vitamin D. If you’re not able to get to a sunny tropical destination this year, focus on warmth. Invest in a few visits to a sauna and spa where you can spend a relaxing afternoon soaking in blissfully hot water.
An interesting way that you can combat SAD this year is by focusing your energy into the creation of something new. Sitting at home wrapped up in blankets can feel alternately mind-numbingly boring and anxiety-inducing. Fight this feeling by flexing your creative muscles this winter. Teach yourself a new skill or plan a project that uses skills you already have. Better yet – find a new community of people through a new skill and you’ll get the benefit of new friends as well!