As fall changes to winter, do you sense a change in your mood as well? When days get shorter and darkness more plentiful, do you feel slowed down or unmotivated to wake up? Maybe it’s difficult to focus on schoolwork or relationships. Quite possibly, you just feel down in the dumps. If you can answer yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. This is what you call Seasonal depression, however the medical term used is seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the four seasons, typically manifesting during the cold autumn and winter months, when the days are shorter, darker, and chillier. SAD or seasonal depression, has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter. As seasons change, people experience a shift in their biological clock or circadian rhythm that can cause them to be out of step with their daily schedule.
Symptoms of SAD can include:
-A persistent low mood
-A loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
-Feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
-Feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
-Sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
-Craving carbohydrates and gaining weight
For some people, these symptoms can be severe and have a significant impact on their day-to-day activities. SAD can be effectively treated in a number of ways, including light therapy, antidepressant medication, talk therapy or some combination of these. While symptoms will generally improve on their own with the change of season, symptoms can improve more quickly with treatment. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to help cope or prevent this disorder, beginning with certain lifestyle changes.
Get natural sunlight
If the decrease in daylight hours is affecting your mood, try to make the most of them and get outside when you can. Even a cloudy day will provide your body with the light it’s craving. So, whether it’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning, or something you fit into your lunch break, wrap up warm and head out into the great outdoors.
If you work indoors, try to let as much sunlight into your working environment as possible. Open any curtains or blinds and sit by a window if you can. As well as making your environment bright, you could also try bringing the outside world in with some indoor plants to help you feel a bit closer to nature.
Some foods can help increase your energy to help keep you going during the winter. Having a diet rich in foods such as protein, simple carbs and vitamins B12 and D, can help you combat the symptoms of SAD. Some may experience a lack of appetite during the winter months, and so can suffer from low energy. Ensuring you eat regular and balanced meals, can keep your energy topped up ready for you to take on the day.
Regular aerobic activity such as running, or walking may be helpful. Make sure the activity is something you’ll enjoy so you’re more likely to stick to it. Find a friend to exercise with you for support and added motivation.
Keep a diary
It can sometimes help to keep a diary (either on paper or using an app on your phone). By making notes of your SAD symptoms, you can pick up on any patterns. This could help you to understand what makes you feel better, and what makes you feel worse.
If you recognise patterns of feeling low, it can help to plan ahead for those difficult days. This might involve stocking up on things you need, and freezing meals in case you don’t have energy to cook. You might also think about rearranging meetings or events for another time or planning some relaxing activities. Think about what might work well for you.
Spend time with those who make you happy
They say laughter is the best medicine. So, spend time with people who make you laugh and make you happy. Socialising with those you care about can be a great way to lift your mood and keep you going.
When to get help for seasonal depression (SAD)
It’s normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, visit your GP. Getting professional help when you need it is very important. Your GP will be able to look at your own personal situation and suggest treatments options that are right for you. It may help to keep a diary of your symptoms to see if you can spot a seasonal pattern of SAD.
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