Tackle Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) With These Unique Morning Routines
Have you heard of the “winter blues”? Yes, it’s something that many people at the office talk about while around the water cooler. If you live in climates where temperatures begin to drop this time of year, you know with the advent of Daylight Saving Time in the fall comes along shorter days—and yes, some confusing, if not sad feelings. This is called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD—appropriate acronym, no?
On an average year, nearly five percent of the population in the United States experience seasonal depression; of this five percent, four out of five people are women. The median age for SAD is anywhere between 20 and 30 years old, although symptoms can appear much earlier. Typically, the closer you are to the equator, the more at risk you are for the winter blues.
There are obvious reasons for this sudden change in mood. Naturally, the sun setting at 5:00 in the evening leaves for long, drawn out nighttime hours that are in sharp contrast to the seemingly endless daylight in the dog days of summer. Winter, in general, carries with it a variety of connotations, too; for instance, you may be less likely to spend time outdoors when it’s freezing or feel averse to going on midday walks because of the dropping temperatures. This can leave many feeling trapped indoors and caught in their own feelings.
An additional theory regarding the winter blues is that when seasons change, there is a disruption of two important hormones—serotonin and melatonin—both critical in regulating mood, feelings of wellbeing, as well as sleep. People with clinical illnesses such as diagnosed depression or bipolar disorder may feel the SAD effects more strongly. Others experience a range of Seasonal Affective Disorder during this time, varying from mild to more severe gradations.
What exactly does SAD evoke in the hearts and minds of those experiencing it? Well, some of the main symptoms might be depression, anxiety, mood changes, sleep problems, lethargy, overeating, social and even sexual problems. This can cause sudden or gradual weight gain as the winter months roll on, as well as difficulty concentrating, fatigue and irritability. Clearly, SAD is no laughing matter—in fact, just the opposite. Yet it seems to be a part of many people’s lives since weather changes are unavoidable.
Ways to Overcome Seasonal Affective Disorder
How do you tackle SAD in ways that are productive and yield the most effective results? Is attempting to ameliorate these yearly symptoms impossible? You may be battling the weather, but you don’t have to be battling yourself. In fact, this is a time of radical self-care that you can apply to your daily life during cold weather and throughout all seasons. Let’s dive into some practical, applicable and enjoyable daily practices that help you combat the negative effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Not only will you learn something new, but you’ll be able to integrate these into your schedule in a way that will be organic and useful.
This may be one of the most well known treatments for SAD as there’s some science behind this to prove it. Because this time of year—winter depression—can be caused by a reaction to a decrease in sunlight, light therapy is a viable option and addresses that issue head on.
Light therapy is exposing you to more “light” for 30 to 60 minutes each day. This may involve wearing a light visor that is worn on the head like a cap or even sitting in front of a light box. A light visor rests on your head and shines light directly on your face, allowing your body to take it in as if you were sitting on the beach. A light box, on the other hand, also mimics sunshine, but involves sitting in front of a box that emanates light to stimulate your body’s circadian rhythms and suppress its natural release of melatonin.
Naturally, when dealing with light visors or light boxes, you want to take the proper precautions. If your skin is especially sensitive to light, you may need to limit your time of exposure. Also, pay close attention to negative effects such as eyestrain, fatigue, headache and irritability.
When utilizing light therapy, it’s advised to do so early in the day. This will provide you more energy, which is why you definitely don’t want to do this before you go to bed. Keep in mind light visors can be kind of pricy, around $200, depending on the brand, as can light boxes. It’s well worth the investment if it works for you, but may require a little bit of saving up to make a reality!
If purchasing a light box or light visor isn’t possible, then planning physical activities during daylight hours is imperative, whether it’s midday or early mornings. Again, sunlight will help your body through this trying time, so whether it’s natural or artificial, this is an optimal way to treat SAD.
Vitamin D is crucial for a healthy mind, body and spirit—this is a nutrient we typically get from sunlight. Well, as you can imagine, sunlight wanes in the winter months, causing us to seek Vitamin D from other sources.
Many Americans are lacking in Vitamin D, which is why it’s a good idea to go to your local drug store and get a high quality Vitamin D supplement. Taking this every morning will ensure you are getting a basic amount of this important ingredient to make your body flourish. Typically, we get the bulk of our Vitamin D from being outdoors, which is why many of us in the spring and summer don’t necessarily have a need for a supplement—but when combatting the winter blues, this can be a big boost for our bodies. The journal Nutrients, for instance, published a study in 2014 that claimed that people who took Vitamin D supplements saw a meaningful improvement to their depression.
During your next check-up, as your doctor about your Vitamin D levels and inquire as to which supplement might be right for you.
Keep a Schedule
When you are able to adhere to a regular schedule, whether it’s going to bed at the same time every night or getting up at the same time every morning, you can alleviate symptoms of SAD. Not only does this expose you to light at specific times of day, but it can also cause you to feel more productive and less likely to be lost in your winter blues thought cycle.
Since our bodies are a little out of whack during this time with the weather, time, and daylight changes—sticking to a schedule that makes us feel grounded and consistent in our day-to-day plans can go a long way.
What’s your schedule during these winter months? Do you have ways in which you can best adhere to it? Finding what works for you and what makes your own schedule worthwhile is the first step!
Keep a Journal
Since we spend so much of winter indoors, we can feel claustrophobic both physically and mentally. When you take the time to write down your thoughts in a journal, it helps you to organize them and not become overwhelmed by their magnitude.
Take time out of your morning or evening to write down your thoughts for 20 minutes at a time. This includes not only your thoughts, but feelings and even concerns. Winter can be a great time for introspection and journaling is an optimal way to organize ideas that can at times feel like too much to handle.
Exercise makes everyone feel better, right? No matter what time of year, getting your body moving is always ideal—not just for physical fitness, but also in terms of your mental wellbeing. Exercises releases endorphins that make us feel good, enhancing our mood and elevating our positive perspective on life.
During these winter months, exercising outdoors is challenging and even dangerous, depending on the climate. Joining a gym where you can hop on a treadmill or elliptical machine or even stationary bike can get you sweating and feeling better in no time. This also helps offset weight gain which is typical with Seasonal Affective Disorder. While staying vigilant about a workout routine can seem daunting, it’s almost more important to do so during this time of year because of the adverse effects of remaining sedentary.
All in all, you have to plan your own course of action for tackling the winter blues, whether it’s through light therapy, Vitamin D supplements, journaling, exercise or sticking to a strict schedule. Take heart that everyone is affected by winter and seek to find their own solutions to the negative consequences of SAD. Sure, tucking in a little early and staying in your bed while it’s snowing outside next to a good book is relaxing, there are survival tactics, techniques and approaches that are important to follow.
Guy Finley put it aptly when he said, “If you want light to come into your life, you need to stand where it is shining.” Find your sources of literal and mental light knowing you are equipped to handle the winter blues.