Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) isn’t a technical term for the “winter blues.” It’s actually a type of mood disorder that affects around five percent of adults in the U.S. during the fall and winter months. According to the American Psychiatric Association:
“SAD has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter. As seasons change, people experience a shift in their biological internal clock or circadian rhythm that can cause them to be out of step with their daily schedule. SAD is more common in people living far from the equator where there are fewer daylight hours in the winter.”
However, the risk factors of experiencing SAD are higher if you live farther away from the equator or have a personal or family history of depression. Research has also found that SAD diagnoses are four times more often in women than in men.
Symptoms of SAD are similar to those of depression. These include:
And, like any other type of depression, it’s important not to neglect your feelings so that they don’t get in the way of living your life. The good news is that there simple and effective ways to ease SAD.
Get more light and be more active.
While you can’t control the seasons or weather, it’s still important to remain active and get as much light exposure as possible.
“If you wake up and you want to pull the covers over your eyes, that's the worst thing to do,” Norman Rosenthal, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. told Health.com. “Get more light, get out of bed, get active,” he recommends.
If natural light isn’t prevalent, try light therapy or dawn simulators. This is where you sit in front of a special box or lamp that is brighter than that of regular light bulbs for around 30 minutes. This will help your brain make more serotonin or stimulate your body's circadian rhythm.
Stick to a schedule.
When the days are shorter and colder, you may want to sleep-in and stay cuddled in your nice warm bed. But, that may interfere with your sleep schedule. Maintaining your routine throughout the year ensures that you get enough sleep enough, which may help reduce the symptoms of seasonal depression. It also makes exposure to natural light consistent.
Also, try to stick with your exercise and diet so that you don’t gain weight. This will also will help reduce stress and anxiety, as well as release endorphins.
Aromatherapy is a natural remedy for depression since essential oils can help control your mood, as well as the body's internal clock that affects your appetite and sleep.
Take a vacation.
If you can, plan a vacation where it’s sunny and warm. Exposure to sunlight can improve your mood, help you get more Vitamin D, and escape dreary weather. Even just a couple of days is enough to help you cope with SAD. Just protect yourself from getting too much UV exposure.
Talk to your doctor.
Finally, because SAD is a form of depression, it’s best to speak with a mental health professional. They can help determine whether you’re experiencing SAD or struggling with another mental health problem. Regardless, you and your therapist can determine the best course of action on how to moderate any negative feelings.