It’s common to feel a little fed up during these long winter months as the temperatures drop and we retreat into our houses. But for a surprising 1 in 300 Australians, this low mood can develop into something far more serious known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
This depressive disorder can cause excessive sleepiness, strong cravings for carbs, fatty foods and sugar, low self-esteem, low energy and motivation, slow thinking, anxiety and a complete lack of concentration. As you can imagine, this can have a massively detrimental effect on a person’s life.
Whilst we can’t go out there and change the weather nor the season, we absolutely can fight back against Seasonal Affective Disorder so we can feel healthier, happy and stronger all year around.
What Causes SAD?
Because of the symptoms you might experience, it’s easy to confuse SAD with regular depression. But the causes and the timing can be quite different. SAD only occurs during the winter months in response to a lack of light. This reduces the amount of serotonin produced in your body, which has the effect of lowering your mood and disrupting your sleep. At the same time, it over-stimulates the production of the sleep hormone melatonin which leaves you feeling sleepy and depressed.
Additionally, this lack of light can disrupt your natural body clock which confuses your body and can cause many of those familiar symptoms of SAD.
How To Beat Your Symptoms Of SAD
If this sounds just like you, don’t worry. There are a ton of ways you can better prepare yourself for the winter ahead so you don’t fall into the clutches of seasonal depression and will feel sunnier all year around.
#1: Get Active
According to a paper published by Harvard Medical School, regular exercise is a powerful way to lift your mood, and could actually work better than anti-depression medication. So instead of slumping on that sofa feeling sorry for yourself, get out there and get moving. Find an activity that you love and enjoy it for at least 30 minutes three times per week for maximum benefits.
#2: Stay Warm
The temperatures might be dropping outside but that’s no reason for you to get shivery too. Keeping warm will help lift your mood and strengthen your immune system. So throw on plenty of layers, enjoy lots of comforting hot drinks, and nourish yourself with warm foods to enjoy an uplifting cuddle on the inside.
#3: Maximise Your Natural Light Exposure
Make the most of the natural light that is available so that you can feel better the easy way. Sunlight is the best way to top up your vitamin D levels, boost that serotonin levels and help get that body clock back on track. Make sure you grab a dose of sunshine early in the morning before work and sitting near a window whenever you can.
#4: Embrace The Darkness
Whilst SAD is primarily triggered by a seasonal light deficiency, it’s just as important you get enough darkness, especially during the hours of darkness. This ensures that your body produces optimal levels of melatonin so you can sleep better, wake refreshed and balance your serotonin levels to feel happier all day long.
For best results, switch off your smartphone, tablet, laptop and other devices at least two hours before you head to bed, cover all LED lights and consider investing in blackout blinds to turn your bedroom into a sleep heaven.
#5: Clean Up Your Diet
Fill your body with wholesome and nutritious foods to supercharge your body, boost your immune system and help all of those happiness hormones work at optimal levels. Ditch the high-sugar, high-fat, calorie-laden junk foods and instead focus on fresh fruits and veggies that will keep your blood sugar stable, prevent carb cravings from ruining your waistline and keep that smile on your face.
#6: Embrace Light Therapy
Studies at the University of Columbia have shown that using a light box can help lift symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and improve your mood in less than a week. All it takes is 15-30 minutes’ light box exposure in the morning and you will feel happier and more energised for the rest of the day. They’re really easy to get hold of and will make a massive difference to your life (speaking from experience!)
#7: Occupy Your Mind
Why not find a brand new hobby so that you can keep your brain active, get creative and have a channel for your energies even when you can’t get outside? This will shift your perspective on winter and turn it into a time for development and growth. So ask yourself, what would you love to learn or experience? Do you have a much-loved hobby that is begging to be rediscovered?
#8: Give Meditation A Try
There’s a growing body of evidence which demonstrates that mindfulness mediation is a powerful tool that we can all use against all types of depression, including SAD. So if you haven’t already tried it, I’d highly recommend that you give it a go.
Meditation (and similar mindfulness-based approaches such as yoga, tai chi and qi gong) help to calm your mind, increasing levels of that brain happy hormone serotonin and will get that smile on your face. You’ll also be better able to cope with stress and anxiety, strengthen your immune system and supercharge your ability to focus on all kinds of tasks. Give it a go!
#9: Strengthen Your Social Relationships
Use the wintertime as a great opportunity to strengthen your social relationships and really invest your time and effort. Don’t be afraid to lean on these people when times get tough and ask them for their help and support when you need it the most. A problem shared is most definitely a problem halved.
#10: Seek Professional Help
If your low mood spirals out of control and your life begins to suffer as a result, make sure you seek professional help. There’s no shame in admitting how you feel, and doing so might just help you find the perfect solution for your SAD.
Even though we live in sunnier climes than most, many of us Australians suffer from the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder when winter arrives. But by following these ten awesome tips, you can improve your mood and feel sunnier all year long.