Coping With Seasonal Depression
SAD stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder, and while there is some debate as to whether or not it is a separate psychological disorder, research does show that people can experience depression as the seasons change. About 10 to 20 percent of the United States population has SAD, with women accounting for about 75 percent of this statistic. This phenomenon, according to psychologists, is associated with a change in the amount of sunlight, especially in those parts of the world that cannot receive it during the winter months.
It’s not entirely clear what causes SAD, but researchers believe that less sunlight causes the brain to slow down production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that scientists believe regulates mood, appetite, digestion, desire, social behavior, sleep, memory, and more. D. factors that greatly affect our overall well-being.
What’s more, darker seasons affect the production of melatonin , a hormone that helps regulate sleep. The pineal gland produces more melatonin in the dark, which prompts you to go to bed, and less when it’s light, which helps you stay awake. The darker it is, the more sleepy you are, so you may feel lethargic during the winter months.
“Our brains tend to respond to light in circadian rhythms,” says Dr. Guy Winch , psychologist and author of Emotional First Aid . “Some people react with a drop in mood, a feeling of lethargy. You get the instinct to hibernate. ” Other symptoms include irritability, anxiety, loss of interest in activities that used to excite you, and a desire to withdraw and isolate.
GARDEN is especially strong in areas with significant seasonal variations, such as the northeastern United States, and tends to rise when the seasons change and the sun returns. But that doesn’t make it any more enjoyable when you’re in it, especially in January and February when the winter seems to be endless. Here are some tips to help you stay sane until spring.
Get help if you need it
The seasonal shift can lead you to full blown depression, and often the best way to deal with this is to see a licensed professional. “When people are truly depressed, they can intellectually know that they have not always been depressed. But we find it difficult to remember states when we are not in them, says Winch. “When we are not hungry, we find it difficult to remember how central and compelling real hunger is. You really can’t get yourself out of depression that way. “
There are several ways to find a therapist, including through the recommendation of friends who are already in therapy, through the National Psychological Association of Psychoanalysts , through your health insurance, or through this handy guide . If you cannot afford a therapist, there are a number of mental health resources and hotlines that can serve as alternatives.
Your mental health consultant can prescribe medication for you to relieve some of your SAD symptoms, plus the two of you can help shape your SAD strategy based on some of the tips offered in the rest of this article.
Define the problem
One of the hardest things about SAD is that hormonal shifts can be so subtle that it’s hard to tell right away that something is wrong. While some people with SAD struggle with complete depression, others may feel a little grumpy or sleepy and / or have unexplained sugar and carbohydrate cravings.
Dr. Ani Kalayjian , professor of psychology at Columbia University and author of Remember Me: 7 Steps to Heal Our Body, Mind, Spirit, and Mother Earth , says it’s a good idea to track one of your moods every day. on a 10 scale. “While there are general symptoms of [SAD], you need to know how it affects you directly,” she says. “Emotionally, we don’t have thermometers, so we have to measure up to 10 units:“ How annoyed am I now? “If it is below four, we can continue our work and daily life, but when we are over four, we tend to lose control.”
Symptoms other than irritability include: loss of energy and lethargy, trouble concentrating, some anxiety, increased reactivity to stimuli and other triggers, sudden need to withdraw, desire to hibernate, decreased sex drive, change in appetite (especially cravings for carbohydrates) and a general feeling of sadness. If you find that this mood change begins sometime in October or November and persists for more than a few weeks, chances are it is SAD.
Buy a light therapy lamp
One of the fastest and most effective ways to deal with seasonal depression is with light therapy. “These are light bulbs that illuminate up to 10,000 lux of light, which in a sense serve as a substitute for the sun,” says Winch.
There are several different types of light boxes available, and while Winch suggests placing one next to you for about 10 to 20 minutes while you eat breakfast in the morning, your mental health provider may recommend a specific one to use. a specific duration at specific times of the day depending on the severity of your symptoms.
Each box will have different instructions for placing it, but the result will be more or less the same. “It seems like it’s a really sunny day outside,” says Winch. “This is a really effective tool.” There are many light therapy lamps available online at various price points, or you can make your own if you are so inclined.
One of the things we lose when the amount of sunlight decreases is vitamin D3, a deficiency of which causes symptoms similar to those of SAD. “Most Americans are deficient in vitamin D3, and this causes very similar symptoms of SAD and depression, such as unwillingness to get out of bed, sadness, irritability,” says Kalayjian. She suggests stocking up on vitamin D3 supplements (tablets, chewable tablets, and creams) to help prevent some of these symptoms. “If they have SAD signs, they have to take 4,000 IU,” says Kalayjian. “If there are no serious signs, just take 2,000 units for service.” Note that you should check with your doctor before taking any supplements, and note that not all types are the same, although ConsumerLab.com has a good list of reputable brands.
In addition to vitamin D3 tablets, Kalayjian suggests taking supplements to help with sleep and relaxation. For example: “The magnesium complex before bed will make sure your muscles are also relaxed. Often, when we go to bed, we carry all this stress, irritability and frustration in our bodies, so we wake up and ask ourselves: “Why is my back holding back? Why was my neck pinched? “We didn’t deal with the stress and we didn’t take it off ourselves.” Again, check with your doctor before taking any supplements, but it is very important to sleep well as one way to combat SAD:
You should always aim to get seven to nine hours of sleep a night, but this is especially important in the winter when your circadian rhythm is already disrupted by the change in daylight. Vinch recommends sticking to a consistent sleep schedule. “Try to fall asleep at the same time and wake up at the same time,” says Winch. “The body succumbs to these things. It helps to limit sleep disturbances. ” Even on weekends – staying up late and sleeping on weekends is fun, but it has the same effect on your body as jet lag and makes it harder to regain your rhythm during the work week.
Kalayjian recommends downloading an app that will remind you when it’s time to go to bed, as well as apps for meditation and white noise. “You can choose relaxing music with bells or other relaxing music that will help you relax your body and mind,” she said. She also recommends meditating before bed. There are a number of good apps that can help track your sleep and wake you up gently or at the right time in a cycle, such as Smart Alarm Clock and SleepCycle . I am personally also a fan of white noise apps like SimplyNoise that help block out street noise and other stressors that can disrupt your night.
There is nothing I wish I could do less in the winter than to expose any part of my body outdoors, but when sunlight is already limited, being inside makes SAD worse. “Spending time outdoors is beneficial, especially on sunny days,” says Winch. Winch recommends sunbathing at lunchtime as a convenient time to take a break, and sun at its brightest afternoon. “Just be outside for an hour or half an hour,” he says. You can fight colds by taking a quick walk, as the exercise will warm you. And while you might be tempted to stay at home all day on non-working days, consider doing winter sports like tobogganing and ice skating – they are fun, active and distracting so you get some sun and reward later. have a hot drink.
Get the hell out of town
The SAD months are not the best time to plan a trip to Alaska, and in the midst of a pandemic, it may not be the best time to plan a trip anywhere. But if you have the means and the ability to travel safely , winter is a great time to go somewhere with the sun, such as Florida, California, or the Maldives, if you are feeling particularly wealthy and eager to travel.
“Follow the sun,” says Kalayjian. “Instead of taking a vacation in the summer, we can try vacationing in January and February, during the months when my clients have their worst symptoms. You feel refreshed, you get some rays and come back with a new positive attitude. “
Eat your vegetables
All the funny things that happen to your serotonin and melatonin levels will make you crave foods high in sugar and carbohydrates. Unfortunately, being overloaded with sweets and breads will only make you feel more lethargic and depressed. There is no need to skip carbs – after all, there is nothing like a large bowl of spaghetti to soften a blizzard – but eat a balanced diet. “Foods high in sugar drastically drain our energy,” says Kalayjian. She recommends eating plenty of dark, leafy vegetables, fish, protein, and fruits that will conserve your energy without disruption and keep you feeling full to reduce food cravings. “They help you get around,” she said.
Remind yourself that this is temporary.
If you find that your mood is low, reminding yourself that SAD is a temporary condition does help. Research shows that people cope better with the dark and cold months if they accept the seasons rather than waiting and waiting for the sun to return. “It is helpful to reunite and see the climate as a part of us, and not as a separate part and enemy,” says Kalayjyan. “Use bad weather days to tidy up your toilets, or do things that matter to you that you can’t do on a sunny day.”
In fact, while the Danish concept of hygge seems a bit overpriced in the market these days , using the winter months to focus on being cozy inside and out will make you feel less like battling the dark. Wrap up in sweaters, drink hot cider, light candles, read books, write in a journal, and spend time with friends and family, preferably in small rooms with fireplaces and mulled wine. Of course, hygge and hot cocoa won’t clear up severe symptoms of SAD, so seeing a mental health professional is the first step. But at least they will make the winter a little more bearable.
This post was first published in November 2018 and was updated on October 26, 2020 by Beth Skoreki to update the introduction and travel section, replace links, and align with Lifehacker’s style guidelines.