Combating Seasonal Affective Disorder: The Necessary Tips and Tricks to Survive the Cold Winters

Winter depression and how to help

You do not need a psychiatrist to confirm that the weather has something to do with your mood. If it's rainy, things may get a bit gloomy for you, and when it's a nice sunny day outside, sometimes you feel the extra pep in your step.

If the winter doldrums keep bringing you depression year after year, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) might be the culprit behind it. 

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder, Anyway?

Seasonal affective disorder

The seasonal affective disorder is a type of seasonal depression that's triggered by any change in the weather. It primarily hits most people during winters. Why do some people develop SAD? Experts are not sure but some of them are of the opinion that seasonal changes can disrupt the circadian rhythm of the body. This circadian rhythm is like a 24-hour clock that controls how you function during sleep-wake hours, making you energized at times and lazy at others.

Another theory why people develop SAD is that changing weather can interfere with the levels of certain hormones like melatonin and serotonin. [1] Both these hormones closely regulate the mood, sleep, and feeling of happiness, and any disruption in their levels may bring about depression.

Signs and Symptoms of SAD

SAD

All signs and symptoms of the seasonal affective disorder are quite similar to those of major depression. The only major difference is the remission of these symptoms as spring arrives. 

The common symptoms of SAD include: [2]

  • Low self-esteem, depressed mood
  • Feeling anxious, stressed, or irritable
  • Loss of interest in all activities that you used to enjoy
  • Increased appetite
  • Poor concentration
  • Changes in sleep pattern
  • Unexplained pains and aches
  • A lack of energy
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Finding solace in drugs and alcohol
  • Feelings of despair and hopelessness

What Can You Do About it?

If you are a common victim of SAD, there are certain tips to follow that can reduce your chances of encountering this problem in the future. Let's take a look at these tips.

Get More Sunlight- It's Free!

Get outside in sunshine

SAD can make it extremely hard for you to motivate yourself. However, try your best to get outside during daylight hours to expose yourself to the sun. If the snow isn’t reflecting too brightly, and you can, don’t wear sunglasses. Although make sure to never directly look at the sun.

Exposing your body to sunlight, even in small doses, can greatly boost the levels of serotonin and, in turn, improve your mood. [3]

Here are some ways to maximize your sun exposure during the sad SAD days:

  • Take a short walk through the neighborhood.
  • Walk to your nearest coffee shop to get a cup or your favorite beverage.
  • Try to maximize the amount of natural light in your home as well as your workplace. Open all drapes and blinds and sit near a window if possible.
  • Try painting your walls in lighter colors to give your home a more vibrant feeling.
  • Consider using daylight simulation bulbs.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise

Getting regular exercise is a powerful way to combat the symptoms of seasonal depression. It can be even more beneficial if you try exercising outside in natural sunlight. [4] Working out regularly can increase the levels of endorphins, serotonin, and all other neurotransmitters that control your mood and increase the levels of happiness. Exercise has been found to treat mild to moderate levels of depression as effectively as antidepressants.  Lastly, performing exercise every day can also improve your sleep.

While you are trying to incorporate exercise in your daily schedule, keep the following two tips in mind:

Exercise For At Least 30 to 60 Minutes Daily

An hour of exercise per day can do miracles for you. If you don't feel like spending so much time at the gym on certain days, replace your regular exercise with something as simple as walking your dog.

Consider Exercises That Are Rhythmic and Continuous

Rhythmic exercises, such as swimming, dancing, martial arts, or weight training, where you are moving all four limbs are the most beneficial in combating the signs of seasonal depression.

Connect with Family and Friends

Connect with friends and family

Maintaining close relationships is a vital step in reducing the symptoms of isolation and managing SAD altogether. Even if you don't feel like it, try participating in social activities. [5]

Retreating into your shell will always seem like the more comfortable option during the SAD season, but the truth is, being in the company of other people will boost your mood. If you have grown far apart from people who were once important to you, try reconnecting with them.

Here are some tips to fight SAD with social interactions:

Meet Up With An Old Friend For Coffee

Remember how close you were to a friend of yours a year ago but suddenly lost connection? Why not reconnect with them over coffee? Perhaps invite them out for a stroll in the park? Step forward and be the first one to break the ice.

Volunteer

Did you know that serving others can improve your overall mental well-being? Helping other people is one of the best ways to feel so much better about yourself.  Sign up for any volunteer activity going around in your neighborhood and be a superhero. See if your local church or community could use some assistance.

Meet New People

Branch out and meet new people. Join a club, take a class, or be a part of a special interest group that gets together on a regular or semi-regular basis. Use this opportunity to meet new people with common interests and socialize.

Join A Support Group

The feeling of connecting with others is so important. Sometimes, even talking about your feelings and what you are going through can make you feel a lot better. Joining a support group will give you the platform to speak up about your feelings. It will also help you connect with those facing similar problems and reduce your sense of isolation. There are even virtual support groups available. 

Take Care of Your Diet

Winter diet

Try eating small but well-balanced meals throughout the day and make sure they are loaded with fruits and veggies. These meals will keep you energized and minimize your mood swings.

  • SAD can often make you crave sugary foods rich in carbohydrates, such as white bread and pasta. If craving carbs, make sure to consume complex carbs as they are a much better choice, leaving you feeling full longer. Rely on foods like whole grain bread, bananas, brown rice, and oatmeal to boost your serotonin levels without experiencing a subsequent sugar crash.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids! Consider nuts and seeds, such as walnuts, flaxseeds, and oily fish. Wild caught salmon is one of my favorites. These omega rich foods can improve your mood and may increase the efficacy of any antidepressants you may be taking.

Go for Light Therapy

Light therapy

If you think that going out to get the natural sun is too demanding, consider using light therapy box. This box beams artificial light that is quite similar to the natural light. But before you try this therapy, make sure you speak to a therapist to know if it is suitable for you. Many SAD lamps in the market can help regulate your circadian rhythm and fight all the symptoms that occur due to its off-balance. To get the most out of this lightbox, use it first thing in the morning. [6]

Write a Journal

Journal

No matter the season, it is always helpful to have a personal journal with you, for it is a tool that can help you combat depression. Depression, including SAD, can make you lose sight of all the positives in your life. Writing down your feelings and thoughts in a journal can, however, help keep these positive aspects in mind. Experts advise starting every journal entry with three things that you are truly grateful for. Then, you can proceed to express your emotions for the day.

Try Scented Epsom Salts

Take a salt bath

If you are going through SAD, it likely feels lousy and irritable. To soothe your body and generate some uplifting vibes, try sitting in an Epsom salt bath, preferably the one with a citrus scent as it greatly improves the mood.

You can actually buy a huge bag of Epsom salts at an extremely affordable price and it'll last forever. And while you are at it, try getting some other self-care essentials like an aromatherapy candle. Draw yourself a perfect bath, light the candle, play your favorite song, and dip yourself in the calming water. You can even use this time to write your daily journal. Just make sure your phone is set aside all this time.

Load Up with Vitamin D

Vitamin D

Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to seasonal affective disorder as per research published the journal, Medical Hypothesis. [7] Another study found that people who consumed vitamin D supplements experienced significant improvement in their depressive symptoms. [8] So if the SAD symptoms are truly bothering you, talk to your doctor about testing your vitamin D levels. Discuss if supplementing with vitamin D can be an option for you.

The Final Words

Cold weather has a lot of us wishing for the warm, vibrant spring again, but this does not mean casting off SAD as just another winter side effect. Take necessary action when the symptoms hit you and it can make a huge difference in your life. With the right tips, you can enjoy a happy winter season instead of a lonesome stretch.

To your health and happiness, Doctor Danielle

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