How to Prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
It’s already been a tough winter for many of us. We’ve all been dealing with uncooperative weather, holiday stress, and don’t even get us started on what this election-cycle has done to us emotionally. However for a large group of us, those were just the garnish on a big plate of awful. The main course: a heaping portion of Seasonal Affective Disorder .
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a category of depression that is triggered by the changing of seasons; specifically, the transition from fall into winter. For those afflicted with SAD, it is a yearly struggle that is almost predictable enough to set your watch to. As a sub-type of clinical Major Depression, people can experience a host of symptomsrelated to SAD such as:
- Low energy
- Emotional hypersensitivity and/or difficulty getting along with others
- Arms and legs feel weak or heavy
- Changes in diet
- Weight gain
- Dental complications from teeth grinding and/or clenching
- Sensitivity in the joints and jaw
In extreme cases, the symptoms can be debilitating, causing months of anguish. However, since it is mostly contained to a 3 month span of time, many people chose to simply limp-through the winter months with the disorder. They essentially hold their breath until the temperature rises, and the sun returns to brighten their days and warm their cheeks. Which make sense, considering there is still no conclusive evidence exposing a direct cause for the condition.
However, scientists are noticing some patterns to the illness. For instance, it has been recently revealed that women between the ages of 15 to 55 make up anywhere from 60% to 90% of those afflicted with SAD. While it is less common to appear in men, when it does develop in males symptoms are typically more acute. Leaving many doctors to suspect a hormonal cause for the disease, but the results are still inconclusive.
Some doctors blame our Circadian Rhythms, others claim that the reduced sunlight during winter causes our Serotoninlevels (a chemical in the brain that regulates mood) to drop. So science is more-or-less at a loss when it comes to treatment as well. Therefore the more “conventional” options for managing your SAD symptoms leave much to be desired. Very few people want – or need – to go on prescription antidepressants or engage in regular psychotherapy sessions for such a short-lived disorder.
To be clear, if you: have felt depressed for multiple days at a time, find no pleasure in activities you used to enjoy, have thoughts of harming yourself or others, or have been self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, you should consult with a doctor immediately. These symptoms are indicative of a possibly dangerous state of mind, and should be handled by a professional. However, if your Seasonal Affective Disorder fails to break into the realm of “dangerous”, there are several lifestyle changes that you can make to prevent SAD from bringing you down next winter.
# 1: Manage Your Environment
Since many of the suspected causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder have to do with a lack of sunlight, your first step should be to take in as much sun as possible. Given that it is all ice and snow outside right now, this method can seem a little challenging, but it is possible by …
- Opening the blinds/drapes in every section of your house
- Trimming tree branches from your windows
- Sitting closer to clear windows while at home or at work
#2 Get Outside More
Piggy-backing on #1’s concept of “taking in as much sun as possible”, you should make an effort to get outside more often. You can get a healthy dose of natural sunlight even on cold or cloudy days, and it helps a lot. You just have to give yourself a reason for getting out there.
- Engage in winter outdoor activities: build a snowman, take the kids sledding, skiing, snowboarding, etc.
- Weather permitting, you can: take a walk, eat lunch outside, or simply park yourself on a bench and bask in the daylight.
A good work out is one of the best all-natural remedies for stress or anxiety, and is a great way to work through Seasonal Affective Disorder. Studies show that regular exercise …
- Promotes neural growth
- Reduces inflammation (in the brain as well as throughout the entire body)
- Releases Endorphins and Dopamine (other brain chemicals that control mood)
- Helps regulate Serotonin and Norepinephrine
- Develops the immune system
- Improves concentration and memory
- Aids sleep
The benefits are incredible too. In no time you will: be happier (naturally), be more motivated, focused, sleep better, have higher self-esteem, get sick less, and have a healthy way to distract yourself if nothing else is pulling you out of a “funk”. Regular exercise is also a relatively small time commitment. Most doctors only recommend exercising for just 30 minutes, 3-5 days a week, to see all of the benefits listed above. Also, with the countless “at-home work out routines” on the market these days, this option doesn’t require you to go out into the cold.
#4 Supplement Your Diet
I’m just going to go ahead and assume that you already know that comfort-food is not medicine. Your diet – by and large – should be a healthy one, year-round. However, there are some additional things you can adopt into your daily regime that can help ease your Winter Depression. These are the most useful vitamins that people have found to aid their Seasonal Affective Disorder …
Quick note: the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has never fully endorsed any one nutritional supplement specifically for the treatment of depression, SAD or otherwise. However, many people have reported seeing improvements by incorporating one or more of the following vitamins. You should consult with your physician before taking any nutritional supplement, especially if you are taking regular medication for another condition. These have been rumored to be helpful:
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- John’s Wort
One nutrient that deserves a special ‘mention’ is Vitamin D … Usually manufactured by your skins natural response to contact with sunlight, Vitamin D can be difficult to come by during the winter months. Since this vitamin is attributed with being a major player in the fight against depression (in general), we recommend seriously investigating it as an option for you. You can find high-absorbing options on the market too without having to put your faith in the supplements you find at your local grocery store. One popular option is the Osteotherapy product, offered by Pharmaden.
#5 A Few Final Options
If nothing above helps, here are a few “honorable mentions” for things people do to naturally remedy SAD …
- Light therapy (available through a doctor)
- Talk therapy (available through your doctor)
- Guided Imagery
- Massage therapy
By incorporating one – or all – of the strategies mentioned in this article, you will be proactive in your struggle against anxiety, depression, and Seasonal Affective Disorder. We encourage you to consult with a physician before altering your daily health regimen in any way.