It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year but that isn’t always the case for some people. Depending on where you live in the world November through February means long nights, short days, and colder weather. While the change in time and temperature can be a welcome change of pace for others it means dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly known as Seasonal Depression or simply SAD. According to Psychology Today roughly 10 million Americans suffer from this.
This disorder can happen during the summer too but it’s more common during the winter months. The Mayo Clinic says things like our internal clock getting messed up due to change in time can trigger SAD. Reduced sunlight can also decrease some people’s ability to create serotonin properly. Of course there are purely biological reasons such as having family members who also have SAD.
It’s easy to brush off SAD by equating lingering sadness with stress from the holidays. It is perfectly common and normal to have the occasional sad spell or stressful days around festive days but if you find yourself completely off you might be having more than just a blue Christmas. Below are a few ways to help manage SAD.
Visit A Doctor
Seasonal Depression, like any other mental health disorder, isn’t something that should be self diagnosed. It’s important to speak to a doctor if the symptoms progress to the point where you feel like your quality of life has changed. A trained medical and psychiatric professional can point you in the right direction of how to treat it. This should be your first step in taking care of your mental health. It can definitely be scary admitting that something is wrong, especially when it comes to matters of the mind. But what is even scarier is doing nothing. If left untreated Psychology Today reports SAD can lead to weight gain, over sleeping, decreased energy levels, and in some extreme cases thoughts of suicide. If there’s only one thing on this list you can do getting help by someone who is trained to help you is the most is it.
Get A Sun Lamp
We have more in common with plants than you’d like to think. Doctors don’t know entirely why Seasonal Depression happens but medical professionals have suggested it might have to do with a lack of rays. Light therapy has actually been used to treat patients stretching back to the 80’s. The National Institute of Mental Health said experiencing light from special sun lamps has shown to alleviate some of the symptoms. NIMH suggests sitting in front of the lamp 20 – 60 minutes right after waking up every day. Obviously don’t stare directly into an intense light source but setting it up and having it near you when you wake up will help.
This suggestion can be difficult to accomplish when dealing with Seasonal Depression. You’ll naturally feel sluggish and lack the drive to get up and go to the gym. Despite that it’s important to try to push through those feelings and work out. According to Health magazine working out in general can alleviate symptoms of depression, so it will definitely help out with SAD. The Mayo Clinic reports working out creates feel-good endorphins that make your brain feel happier. Plus working out is a great way to work through the stress brought on by the holidays. Rather than lie in bed and stew on problems you can focus on them during a swim or a run or even just a brisk walk around the block.
Plan Outdoor Winter Activities
Being outside when it’s freezing cold isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it can be helpful in combating Seasonal Depression. No one expects you to be running around in the snow for all hours of the day but planning a few outdoor activities now and then can be beneficial. For instance there are the common snow activities like skiing or snowboarding but if that isn’t really your speed even going on a daily walk can help. Feeling the sun on your face, no matter how short, can do wonders for your mood. Just be sure to wear plenty of sunscreen because even though it’s winter it doesn’t mean you can’t still get sun damage.
Consistent Sleeping Schedule
Being consistent with your sleeping schedule can be the most difficult thing to do with Seasonal Depression. Your body naturally wants to relax and sleep when it’s dark outside and it’s dark a lot during the winter. While it does range the more north you go during the winter solstice places from the farthest north of California across to Rhode Island get roughly 9 hours of sunlight during that day. That is the shortest day of the year but it is an indication of just how little light the northern hemisphere gets during winter. Meaning it’s easier to want to stay in bed, but that just isn’t healthy. It can be extremely hard to get out of bed when it’s still dark outside and it can be even harder to stay awake once it gets dark. If you struggle with getting out of bed without the sun streaming through your window consider getting a sunrise alarm clock. They can imitate a natural sunrise by getting brighter and brighter until you have to wake up.
Mindful Eating Habits
This isn’t about dieting or being “good” about eating during the holidays. Being mindful about your eating habits while dealing with Seasonal Depression just means paying attention to the food you’re eating. Holiday treats are always difficult to avoid but there’s more than just the temptations of sugar cookies. Lack of motivation might make you more likely to get carry-out or drive through meals. Or if you’re sleeping all the time you might even disregard food in general, which isn’t good. Plan your meals before you eat them, or at the very least have a rough idea of what you’re going to eat that day. That way you aren’t tempted to just grab something quick and easy that will only make you feel even more sluggish.