Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is depression brought on by a change in seasons. It most commonly affects people during the fall and winter, although some people, especially people with bipolar disorder, may experience symptoms of anxiety or mania in the spring. SAD is thought to be caused mainly by a disruption in the circadian rhythm. When you have to wake up in the dark, and go home from work in the dark, your neurotransmitters and hormones get disrupted, leading to a lack of energy and mood changes. You may feel depressed, hopeless, lacking in energy, unable to get out of bed, and unable to enjoy anything at all. You may eat too much, especially carbs, and gain weight. If these symptoms persist for more than two weeks, you should see a doctor, especially if you’re having thoughts of suicide. There are a number of ways to reduce the symptoms of SAD.
Get some light exposure
Most of the symptoms of SAD are caused by too little sunlight, so the more you can correct for that, the less severe your symptoms will be. There are a number of ways to to this. The simplest is just to spend more time outside, even if it’s cold or overcast. This helps wake you up, especially if the sun’s not out when you get up in the morning. It also exposes you to fresh air, which is much cleaner than indoor air. You also get a little bit of vitamin D, even though you probably don’t have much skin exposed to the sunlight. You may also consider finding ways to let more light into the house, whether it’s just opening the curtains, or painting the walls a lighter color. The next step would be to consider artificial light sources. You may want to get a lightbox. That’s a full-spectrum light you can set on your breakfast table or your desk at work. About 30 minutes a day in front of a light box has been shown to reduce the symptoms of SAD. You may also want to consider a light-up alarm clock. These gradually turn on a full-spectrum light to wake you up in the morning, compensating for the late sunrise.
One reason people feel so awful in the winter is that they just want to stay cozy inside instead of getting exercise outside. Exercise has many benefits that improve your health and mood. Fight the temptation to hibernate. Take a walk, even if it’s chilly. Consider joining a gym so you can get a bit of exercise even when it’s cold and dark outside.
Getting together with friends is an excellent way to spend a cold winter evening. Socializing is one of the best ways to improve your mood. And feeling a greater sense of social connection is one of the best ways to reduce stress and anxiety. Just be careful of drinking alcohol and eating sweets. They may be part of hygge, but they can also make depression much worse.
When you experience SAD, you want to eat a lot more, especially sugar and carbs. Unfortunately, these will probably make you feel worse by crashing your blood sugar and making you gain weight. Instead, stick to healthy foods, especially fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, and fish. These will keep your blood sugar stable and promote healthy brain function.
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