How To Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder
By Laura Baker
Beat the Winter Blues!
Many people feel like they have less energy in the winter months, and some also experience more anxiety and depression than they typically do in the warm summer months. If your symptoms are severe, you may have a disorder known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Below are some ways you can work to beat the winter blues and, if your symptoms are severe, when to seek the help of a professional.
Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet
You might find yourself craving sugar or turning to caffeine for an energy boost when you’re feeling fatigued, but these substances can actually do more harm than good. Sugar creates a sudden increase in blood sugar levels followed by a sudden crash that leaves you feeling more sluggish than before, and caffeine often results in a similar crash.
Instead of turning to quick fixes, consume a well-balanced diet rich in essential vitamins and minerals. Choose meals with protein and fiber to nourish your body and keep your systems in balance. You might be surprised by how much your diet can impact your mental health. Certain foods and vitamins, such as Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D, can have a particularly beneficial effect when you’re coping with SAD.
Practice Phase Shifting
It’s not actually the cold temperatures that contribute to SAD, but the shorter days that result in less exposure to natural sunlight. Some experts suggest a technique called phase shifting in which you set your internal clock to get up earlier each morning so that you can take advantage of the morning sun.
If getting out of bed at pre-dawn hours doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you can get similar benefits with light box therapy (a special lighting fixture that emits light similar to natural sunlight) or by installing bright lights in your kitchen or another area where you spend most of your time in the morning. This boost of light exposure first thing in the morning can help to lift your mood for the day.
Get Daily Exercise
If you’re already exhausted, a 45-minute HIIT session probably isn’t at the top of the list of things you can’t wait to do. The good news is that it doesn’t take 45 minutes of intense exercise to reap the benefits of physical activity in combating SAD. In fact, a simple, 30-minute walk each day or a 30-minute leisurely swim at the local recreation or fitness center can help you to feel more energized and happier.
Exercise releases chemicals in the brain called endorphins, and these chemicals have a profound impact on your mood. Endorphins also help to relieve stress and anxiety, and they’ll make you feel more energized overall.
When to Seek Professional Help for SAD
While it’s always a good idea to keep your healthcare provider in the loop regarding your mental health as well as your physical health, these tips will help you to reduce the feelings of sadness and fatigue that plague you in the winter months. Your healthcare provider can refer you to a psychologist and prescribe medication that can help you to avoid and alleviate the symptoms of SAD if your symptoms are severe.
If you experience any of the warning signs below or your symptoms persist despite your non-medical efforts, talk to your provider right away:
- You have thoughts of suicide.
- Your symptoms significantly limit your daily functioning.
- You feel sad more frequently than you do not and have little hope for the future.
- Significant appetite changes; you’re eating a great deal more or less than usual.
- You struggle to get out of bed each day, or you spend most of the day in bed.
- You’re extremely irritable, or you get angry and have outbursts over little things frequently.
If you’re ever in doubt, talk to your healthcare provider. Even if your symptoms don’t warrant medication, your physician can offer other tips to help you cope and monitor your condition over time for worrisome changes. Whether you have a minor case of the winter blues or SAD, there is hope for feeling happy and energized once again.