Many of us experience some sort of winter blues as the colder and darker weather keeps us shut up indoors. I’m talking lack of energy, low mood, and weight gain but is it the blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
SAD is recognised as a form of depression which occurs in response to a particular season but is usually more apparent in the autumn and winter season
Fortunately, there are effective ways of dealing with both seasonal blues and SAD. If you do suspect you have the latter, it is still best to seek further advice from your GP but the following suggestions offer natural ways of supporting yourself through this time of year.
Understanding the Facts About SAD
1. Distinguish between SAD and other forms of depression. SAD often resembles other types of depression. The key difference is that your symptoms occur at the same time or same season each year.
2. Recognise the symptoms. With SAD, you're likely to feel sad and irritable. You may lose interest in your normal activities and feel lethargic. You may sleep more and find it difficult to rise in the morning or your sleep patterns may be disrupted. You may feel more anxious and less social and feel hungry all the time with especially strong cravings for carbohydrates like bread and pasta.
3. Be aware of the different varieties of SAD. This condition usually strikes in the winter, but not always. For some people, the heat and humidity of summer serve as triggers.
4. Know your risk factors. The highest risk of SAD occurs between the ages of 15 and 55. As you age, you're less likely to develop SAD. It's more common in women and in areas where the winter days are shorter and the amount of light changes dramatically according to the season. Family history also plays a role.
Strategies for Living With SAD
1. Increase your exposure to natural light. Home remedies are sometimes all you need. Try using bright lights in the morning and spend more time outdoors in the sun.
Morning light is especially important.
2. Try lightboxes or wake up lights. These are designed to mimic outdoor light. I have a Lumie Bodyclock and love it (aside from the alarm which I am not a fan of). I use it to wake me up with gradual light, but you can also have a lightbox in which you spend just half-hour or so a day exposed to the light. Many people report immediate relief.
3. Get more exercise. Regular exercise is beneficial for coping with most forms of depression, including SAD. Schedule a workout first thing in the morning like a brisk walk or a gentler practice Tai Chi in your back garden or park (if it’s not too cold of course).
4. Manage stress. Be extra gentle with yourself. Reduce your commitments and limit overstimulation. Take time to relax through meditation or listening to relaxing music.
Aim for good quality sleep. Your body may try to get extra sleep when you have SAD. Help to make it restorative by avoiding alcohol and caffeine and create a relaxing and regular early bedtime routine.
5. Watch your weight. SAD can lead to weight gain. Fill up on foods rich in fiber, protein and healthy fats to help balance your blood sugar and reduce carb cravings.
6. Do some traveling. If your budget and schedule permits, SAD is one of the few issues you can run away from. Go where the weather suits your needs better.
7. See your doctor or a counsellor. Talk therapy is another valuable resource. It may help you address underlying issues and keep SAD from interfering with your daily life.
While winter months can be daunting, the change of seasons are an opportunity to appreciate nature and shake up your daily self-care routines. A little more exposure to morning light may be all you need to stay well along with employing a few other of these tactics.
If you think you could be experiencing symptoms of SAD, talk with your doctor, investigate some complementary therapies and find a treatment plan that works for you.
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