Have you noticed how your energy seems to lag, you feel less motivated, and may even be moodier during the winter months?
If so, is likely that you are suffering from a case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a common form of depression related to the changes in seasons, typically beginning in late fall and subsiding during the sunnier spring days. Living in the northern latitudes of Minnesota makes us prime candidates for SAD. The range of symptoms and the symptom severity varies from person to person, often progressing as the winter goes on. However, a few of the standout signs specific to this ‘winter depression’ include:
- Low energy and oversleeping
- Irritability, moodiness, and hypersensitivity to rejection
- Trouble concentrating
- Appetite changes, especially cravings for carbohydrate-laden foods
- Weight gain
- Systemic inflammation
- Dry skin and hair
- Impaired bone health
- Compromised blood pressure regulation
Why do we experience SAD?
The exact origin of seasonal affective disorder remains unknown, but researchers suspect that one’s biological clock, serotonin levels, and melatonin levels play a substantial role in the onset of winter depression, as well as why some individuals experience it to a greater degree than others.
Our body’s biological clock, or circadian rhythm, is primarily responsible for our sleep-wake cycle. An upset in this pattern may lead to problems with serotonin and melatonin regulation. Our Multi-Force PM can help keep you on a regular sleep schedule.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, or brain chemical, related to mood, dreams, appetite, and thoughts. It is suggested that a drop in serotonin levels may contribute to SAD as reduced sunlight can lead to depression. Partnering with serotonin is melatonin, a hormone that helps control sleep and wake cycles and is associated with mood. Findings show that the change in seasons, particularly the decrease in daylight, can disrupt the body’s melatonin levels, consequently impacting an individual’s sleep patterns and daily disposition.
Why is this important and what can you do?
It is imperative to recognize that seasonal depression exists, but it isn’t necessary to throw in the towel when you feel the ‘winter blues’ starting to creep in. If you’re suspicious that you are suffering from SAD, be proactive. Recognize that this is a common condition, and that its effects are temporary. Take advantage of the numerous treatments and therapies to help ward off this nasty funk.
Light therapy, the use of a light box, has taken off in recent years. While they have been designed to be safe and effective, they are not regulated by the FDA. Experts believe that this treatment mimics the outside light and induces a chemical change in the brain, leading to a lightened mood. Other practical options include psychotherapy and medication. Oftentimes doctors recommend an individual bundle all of these treatments together for maximum support.
Keep in mind that sometimes the answer is even simpler. Before investing your time and money into the above and more drastic options, try bringing yourself back to the basics:
Spend time in the sun. You don't need much to reap the benefits of this sunshine vitamin. Simply devoting 10 minutes (pre-sunscreen) to soaking up those rays can do you a lot of good.
Get some physical activity. Studies show that exercise is the most underutilized anti-depressant, so why not take advantage of some ‘feel good’ movement!? Take your dog on a short walk. Not only will your brain feel clearer from the crisp air, your body will thank you for moving, and your furry friend will get much needed exercise!
Besides getting Vitamin D through sunlight, you can get it through certain foods and supplements. Make sure to include D-rich foods in your diet, especially during the winter months.
While very few foods are naturally rich in Vitamin D, many products have become fortified and therefore can still offer an additional boost.
Do yourself some good and make sure to incorporate these foods into your diet:
- Fatty fish like salmon and tuna
- Egg yolks
- Orange juice
- Vitamin D supplement
Tips for living with SAD:
Be proactive by taking a hands-on approach to your health and wellness. The sunshine vitamin is crucial to our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.
You may find it helpful to:
- Learn to identify when your symptoms flare up and possible reasons why
- Acknowledge and accept that you suffer from seasonal depression
- Learn to appreciate moments of joy and times you feel ‘like yourself’
Whether or not you think you've fallen victim to deficiency, try implementing some of the previously mentioned strategies, to start feeling better! Lastly, don't be afraid to book that spring break trip! De-stressing and soaking up the sun will not only benefit you immediately, but also have a lasting positive impact for the remainder of the winter!