During the winter months, for many is defined by holidays, snow days, cozying up with blankets and enjoying the more introspective months at hand, I always had it defined by something else; feelings of fatigue, negative thoughts, overeating, weight gain, sadness, and isolation. This condition can be called “winter blues,” in passing, but it signals something more serious: SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder.
For someone like me, the change in my personality was a major signal something was off. Being that I live in a location that tends to get colder, I consulted my doctor and learned about my type of depression. With a little help from a mental health professional, I was able to find natural treatment options and, today, I’m going to share them with you, so you can stop suffering!
SAD and its symptoms of depression can come up starting early fall and last through the winter, which can severely impact all aspects of your life (at least it did mine). The important thing to takeaway here is that you’re not alone. The form of depression affects nearly 5% of the adult population.
If you’re wondering, “Do I have this?”, let me explain what it feels like. It’s sort of like being Mr. Jekyll in warmer months and Dr.Hyde in colder months. In the summer, you’re lively, fun, active, and social. You feel like you. Then during the cold time of year, it’s as if some invisible force takes over, and you feel sad, hopeless, disinterested in things you usually love (like activities or seeing friends).
If you resonate with this, you must tackle the depression symptoms while they’re occurring, especially in winter.
How Will I Know If I Have SAD?
There are few ways to tell if this is just an isolated down period in your life (which should still be addressed!) or something more serious, like SAD or major depressive disorder.
If your symptoms continuously come up around the same time each fall or winter, there’s a chance it could be SAD.
Some pretty telling symptoms will reveal themselves around this time period. Are you ready to hear some of the ones I dealt with?
- I couldn’t get out of bed.
- My appetite changed.
- I gained weight.
- I was, er, not very pleasant to be around.
- I was a total avoidant personality.
- I felt hopeless, sad, guilty, and down on myself.
- My sex drive was lost, and I didn’t want to hang out with friends or do activities.
Truthfully, if we look at the facts, it becomes quite clear why these major depression side effects happen. For one, we’re in darkness most of the winter season. Boston only get 9 hours of light per day and parts of Alaska… Well, they get zilch. Nada. Nothing. Since our bodies get much needed Vitamin D from the sun rays and a lack of light can lead to an imbalance of serotonin, it’s no wonder that so many adults suffer from this disorder!
While that was my experience, let’s go through the official symptoms of this disorder. You know, since things vary person to person.
- Depressed mood, low self-esteem
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Appetite and weight changes
- Feeling angry, irritable, stressed, or anxious
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Changes in sleeping pattern
- Difficulty concentrating
- Fatigue and lack of energy; reduced sex drive
- Use of drugs or alcohol for comfort
- Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and despair
What Causes This Seasonal Depression?
At this point, you may be wondering why seasonal depression hits. Understandable. Let me guide you through some of the more specific causes for these depressive episodes, so you’re no longer in the dark on what’s going on.
As anyone who lives in a location that has a winter season knows, daylight is something to be cherished. As the winter rolls in, days become increasingly shorter. Most of us in the middle-to-northeastern part of the United States go from enjoying brightly lit skies until 8 p.m. in summer to leaving work at 5 p.m. in complete darkness.
While we take it for granted, sunlight is tied to the way our body’s circadian rhythm behaves, telling us when to sleep and when to wake. The onset of winter throws it off, which has been found to cause feelings of depression.
More than this, it also impacts the body’s natural melatonin levels and the production of melatonin. Not sure what that word is? Melatonin is the hormone responsible for your sleep patterns. Unfortunately, when winter comes, your production of it gets a bit whacky, leading to the aforementioned symptoms.
Lastly, there’s the fact that sunlight is notorious for its ability to provide the body with much-needed vitamin D. In one study, it was confirmed that reduced levels of this key vitamin in rats caused the onset of depression. This comes from the connection between Vitamin D and Serotonin (mood moderator) levels in the brain. The former impacts the latter.
As you can see, the main trigger of SAD stems from our body’s intrinsic need for the sunlight. Luckily, with the onset of technology and good old supplements, there are ways to help manage the symptoms of winter depression and get back on track with your life no matter the seasonal changes.
Here’s How To Beat Seasonal Depression
At last, you’ve arrived at my favorite part of the whole article; SAD treatment. I told you that I’d give you the solutions I found, and I wasn’t lying! Below are a few things that helped me go from feeling blah all season-long to taking control of my life again without having to take antidepressant medication. I hope that they are as helpful and life-changing for you, as they were me.
Utilize Positive Mantras
Mindset, in my opinion, can help improve any situation. That’s why I started to incorporate them into my daily routine to help boost my feelings of contentedness. It also helped to set the energy for the day.
The mantra I used specifically was: “I wake up, get up, I show up.” It forced me to remember I am strong and willing.
My suggestion for implementing it is to do it in the morning. Stretch, go to the end of your bed, sit down, and recite it a few times. Then, go on and show the day who’s boss!
As touched on briefly, Serotonin levels are impacted by the lack of daylight. While this stinks, there is one thing that has a role in positively affecting serotonin; exercise. One of the best things to do is to make the most of natural light while you have it. I did this by taking a walk. Crazy? Maybe! But it was nice to bundle up and go outside into nature. Walking boosts endorphins, which can help the whole serotonin situation.
The thing is, make sure to keep yourself warm. I would wear all black in layers — This is actually the only time I wear black, hah!
Here’s the exact outfit I’d rock:
- Fleece-lined leggings
- Hand warmers by Grabber Warmers
- Warm shoes (like fur-lined boots!)
Invest in Lightbox Therapy
Another way to ease the effects of SAD is through light therapy. This is simply using something called a lightbox, which is a bright light for 30 minutes a day. It’s been shown to help lift your moods by causing a positive chemical change within the brain.
The lightbox itself can provide up to 10,000 lux of light, which will do the trick for you!
When it comes to using the lightbox, there are few things to note:
- You can use it within the first hour of waking up
- Make sure only to use it for 20-30 minutes
- Should be kept at a fair distance of about 20 inches from your face
- While it sounds weird, keep your eyes open, but don’t look directly at the light!
Most lightboxes will cost an average of $150, and while they may seem like an investment, it is completely worth it. Promise.
Take A Vitamin D Supplement
The last thing to do that can help curb the negative impacts of SAD is taking a daily Vitamin D supplement. Since you can’t get this vitamin at the ideal amounts naturally in the winter, take a pill (or gummy!). As mentioned, it’s been studied that there’s a link between Vitamin D deficiency and SAD in those impacted. In taking a supplement, it will help to counteract the effects of less sunlight to better balance your brain chemicals.
In the end, the best way to overcome seasonal depression and the associated SAD symptoms is to face it head-on. You can try to tackle the issues yourself with my suggested remedies as a potentially effective treatment or consult with your doctor.
It’s time to live your happiest, healthiest, and most beautiful life all year round which starts by taking my free healing quiz at https://ct.liveyourtruth.com/healing-quiz/ .