It may go by several euphemistic names, but seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a very real condition that can affect your mood, your concentration, and your health. However, there are a few things you can do to lift your spirits.
As the name implies, seasonal affective disorder usually begins in the fall and continues throughout winter. While we can’t pin down the specific cause of SAD (genetics, age, and your body’s own chemical makeup can play a role), the medical community believes that reduced exposure to sunlight is the main culprit. The shorter the days, the more melatonin (sleep hormone) is produced. Paradoxically, levels of serotonin (happy hormone) go down.
Is it no wonder, then, that an estimated 25 percent of the general population report symptoms of SAD? Ask yourself if you’ve experienced any of the following:
- Craving for foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating
The good news is that you don’t have to accept SAD as an annual fact of life. Even slight modifications in three key areas will brighten your mood between now and the first signs of spring.
Stay active. When it comes to physical activity, something is better than nothing. It only takes a short amount of regular, moderate exercise to release endorphins that minimize pain and create a feeling of wellbeing. Try walking, cleaning house, or any other moderate activity for 20 minutes a day.
Eat like you do in the summer. We all think of winter as the time for heavy, comfort foods like potatoes, pasta, and rich stews. But these high-carb foods really do weigh you down. Make sure you eat plenty of green and leafy vegetables, drink at least 48 ounces of water each day, and don’t skip meals.
Let the sunshine in. Try to get outside by running errands on your lunch hour. If it’s not icy, park farther away from the office or supermarket door to increase time in the sun. If getting out is difficult, you can purchase a light therapy, or phototherapy, box online. Just make sure it is designed for treating SAD and emits 10,000 lux of light. It’s important also to note that while a mere 10 – 15 minutes a day is all that’s needed, you should begin using phototherapy before the time change in November to reap real benefits.
Most importantly, don’t let SAD take over your life. We all get the winter blues from time to time, but hopelessness, despair, drinking to excess, or thoughts of hurting yourself are signs of something more serious. Don’t be afraid to ask for help — see your doctor right away. We’re here to heal you, body and mind.