Each year when the dark days come I wish I was a bear, so I could hibernate until spring. Living in higher latitudes is harder not only because of the temperatures, scratching the frost off the windshield and the amount of snow you have to shovel… that may be even fun if you don’t start your work very early. The inhabitants of the Northern countries receive less light exposure and spend most of their time indoors, which affects their mental health and is the main cause of the seasonal affective disorder.
What is seasonal affective disorder?
SAD, also known as seasonal depression or the winter blues, is a mood disorder related to the change of seasons. For some people, depression begins and starts at the same time almost every year. It doesn’t always have to be in winter, though – there is a summer version of the seasonal affective disorder.
Technically speaking, seasonal affective disorder is a subtype of major depression and shares with it some of its symptoms:
- Depressive mood for most of the day, nearly every day
- Feeling of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Low energy levels, fatigue
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Issues with sleep
- Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
So I thought I was okay and that depression was over, but it looks like I am a seasonal affective disorder sufferer. When days are so short and I rarely see the sun, I feel really down. If you can find some annual pattern to your depression, you are probably suffering from SAD too.
Here are some ways you can make your life more pleasant in winter and avoid getting depressed.
Spend time outdoors
Okay, I know that it’s hard to find motivation to leave your cozy home when it is chilly outside. But even on a very cloudy day, the natural light is about ten times brighter than yellowish artificial light. If you spend most of your time inside—as people generally do these days—your eyes’ light receptors simply aren’t getting the stimulation they need. And that, in turn, can have a major effect on both your brain chemistry and your body clock.
So natural sunlight exposure helps you regulate hormone levels, and thus lower stress and reduce the symptoms of the seasonal affective disorder.
As long as it’s not raining or very windy, a walk can be pretty enjoyable even in winter. Focus on the texture of snow, look for footprints, spot little birds, play with your dog. Find a reason to go out.
According to a Harvard University study, if you dedicate 35 minutes five times a week, or an hour a day three times a week is enough to get over a mild to moderate depression. Even more effective is exercising under bright light. A preliminary research proved that a combination of exercise and bright light greatly improves mental health and vitality while reducing the symptoms of depression.
If you find it difficult to motivate yourself to workout, here you will find a bunch of tips.
Plan a tropical vacation
If you have the possibility to take a week off and enjoy the sunny weather in some warmer place, don’t hesitate to do it! It will allow you to charge your batteries and help you survive through winter. Think about it when it is still warm and sunny, so you don’t spend a fortune on the flight. A tropical getaway doesn’t have to be very costly – in some countries for just a few dollars you can sleep in a beach hammock, which is much more exciting than staying in a five-star luxury hotel.
It’s not a coincidence that in winter we crave more carbohydrates and tend to gain weight. It’s important to discern between the foods that boost your mood and those that give you a temporary feeling of euphoria, but in the long run, they can cause more anxiety and are certainly not healthy for your body. In wintertime, I also consume lots of hot soups and nutritious, spicy potages to keep my body warm and energized.
Supplement Vitamin D
Our bodies produce vitamin D when UVB rays come into contact with skin, but the amount of rays that reach it depends on many factors, such as the time of the day, the latitude, the altitude, the season, and even the complexion itself. It’s easy to imagine that spending most of our time indoors we don’t have many opportunities to expose our skin to the UVB rays, and hence the Vitamin D deficiency.
It is not completely clear how the lack of vitamin D affects the brain, yet it’s deficiency has been linked to a depressive mood in many studies. My psychiatrist told me to supplement it, and I trust her.
Looking for the most efficient Vitamin D supplement for depression?
Hug and get hugged, with friends, family, or your partner. It’s free, boosts your happy hormones and facilitates bonding, so whenever you have a chance give someone a hug. On a chilly day, there is nothing better than human warmth. In absence of another human being, you can pet a dog or stroke a cat to get the same result. I’ve already written an article on the many benefits of hugging.
Meditation solves most life problems and teaches you to accept the way things are, without judging them or getting annoyed. If you can’t change the weather or make the day longer, work on acceptance and gratitude for every ray of sun. Daily meditation practice will not improve the weather, but it will bring you peace of mind and make your life easier in general. The benefits of meditation are many, and you don’t have to quit when the spring comes!
Get some extra sunlight
Okay, I get it… If you really, really don’t want to go for a walk or have no time to do so because you work until late, there is another way to receive the amount of light exposure you need. Seasonal affective disorder lights are a high-tech solution that will allow you beat the winter blues. I strongly recommend you consider buying a SAD light. Using one only 30 minutes a day gives you the amount of sunlight exposure your body needs and it will brighten your day 🙂
It’s perfectly normal if you feel that you need more sleep in winter. As we said before, your body’s clock synchronizes with sunlight, so you shouldn’t be surprised that you feel depressed and lethargic when leaving for work before sunrise. Luckily, there has been invented a way to combat the wintry darkness. Dawn simulator is a device that gradually brightens your bedroom over a set period of time, thus simulating sunrise and providing your eye receptors with the necessary stimulation to wake up naturally. Research show that dawn simulators do improve the symptoms of seasonal depression and make getting out of bed much easier.
Focusing on what you can’t change, and complaining about winter is pointless. If you want to improve your wellbeing, focus on what you can do about it. A combination of these methods will allow you enjoy life even in the dark months of winter and get over your seasonal affective disorder.
May the Force be with you!