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Many of us enjoy the arrival of cooler temperatures because this means holidays, good food, friends and family — the “most wonderful time of the year.” For some, though, cooler weather brings with it something less fun and festive: seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.
Seasonal affective disorder is a seasonal form of depression that most commonly occurs during the cooler months but is tied to the seasonal changes. If you find yourself getting blue during the cooler months for reasons other than the temperature, here are some tips to help you slay SAD.
Talk to a Professional
There are plenty of things you can do to help you deal with SAD, and we’ll talk about those in a minute. But we want to start with this — take the time to talk to a professional. SAD can have some very negative consequences if left untreated.
Common symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include:
- Having less energy or feeling abnormally fatigued
- Irritability or difficulty concentrating
- Weight gain and poor eating habits that specifically focus on sugary or carb-heavy foods
- Avoiding social situations or no longer enjoying activities that you normally enjoy
- Feeling sad or hopeless, or having thoughts of suicide
If you find yourself having any of these symptoms, consider making an appointment with your local therapist. They may be able to recommend some lifestyle changes that can help you manage the symptoms of SAD during the cooler months.
Get Some Sun — Or at Least Some Vitamin D
We don’t get as much sun during the winter months as we do when the weather is warmer. Part of that is by necessity — no one wants frostbite, so you cover up when it gets cold. While no one knows the cause of SAD, some studies have suggested that it can be triggered or exacerbated by this lack of sunlight.
This could be because of a number of different reasons. It gets darker earlier during the winter months, which can wreak havoc with the body’s circadian rhythm. When it’s dark outside, your body naturally produces melatonin. But for most of us, our work schedule doesn’t change with the seasons, so we’re still working long after the sun has gone down.
Getting enough sun also plays a role in the balance of dopamine and serotonin in your brain. These are your body’s “feel-good” chemicals. If they get out of balance, it can affect your mood and trigger depressive episodes or SAD.
If you can, get outside and get some sun. If you can’t, consider a vitamin D supplement — under the supervision of your doctor — or a light therapy box, which can help maintain your circadian rhythm during the darker winter months.
Exercise is one of the most commonly cited ways to manage SAD symptoms, but let’s be honest — no one wants to go outside and exercise in the cold. Sure, you might burn a few extra calories if you’re shivering while you’re trying to lift, but it just makes you uncomfortable. So it’s not really worth the extra burn.
Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to exercise in the winter while staying warm indoors. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Dance: Even if you don’t want to be a professional dancer, heading to a local barre class, which pairs exercise with ballet-inspired yoga or even a pole dancing class, can be a great way to get your heart pumping indoors.
- Run: If you don’t like running outside in the cold, hop on a treadmill at your local gym and start cranking out those miles. Many runners report that “getting in the zone” when they run is incredibly re-invigorating and energizing, and many runners report becoming addicted to this healthy “runner’s high.” Just be sure you’re getting your nutrients — calories out and in.
- Fight: Don’t pick a bar fight — those always end badly. Instead, head to your local boxing gym or martial arts studio and learn how to fight. This is a great cardio exercise and may add elements of strength training, too.
- Jump: Trampolines aren’t just for kids. Start jumping. A trampoline workout offers up some intense cardio. Six minutes of a trampoline workout is equivalent to running a mile, so start bouncing.
- HIIT It: High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is designed to burn as many calories as possible in a short time by challenging you to quickly switch between exercises. As a bonus, you can even do HIIT in the water as some gyms, which patients report can be even more therapeutic.
Exercise works to help tackle SAD by releasing those feel-good chemicals we mentioned before — dopamine and serotonin — into your body. It also triggers the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers. You may find that you have more energy after a good workout than you’ve had all day.
Improve Your Diet
We get it: the cooler months bring the holidays, and they also bring with them some pretty bad eating habits. We “tax” our kids’ Halloween candy — only the best Reese’s for Mom and Dad, thank you very much — and then, when Christmas rolls around, we gorge ourselves on turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and yams with marshmallows.
One of the symptoms of SAD is craving these carb- or sugar-heavy foods. But don’t think that your Christmas dinner is a symptom of this seasonal depression. Instead, focus on your diet outside of those holidays. Enjoy lean proteins, fewer carbs and sugars, and stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables. Even if you prefer to eat seasonal produce, there are plenty of options, from kale and winter squash to pomegranates, which have been shown to contain a number of healthy antioxidants.
There are plenty of things you can do to combat seasonal affective disorder on your own. But if you’re feeling sad during the winter months and it’s affecting your daily life, consider planning a trip to your local therapist. They might be able to point you in the right direction and provide you with the best advice for your lifestyle.