While fall is full of treats like pumpkin spice, cozy sweaters, and hot chocolate, it does come with some downsides. For some people, the season beckons the start of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If you’re not paying close attention, this condition may sneak up on you and affect the way both your mind and body feel. Read on to learn what SAD is, as well as a few tips to beat it.
What is SAD?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) is a type of depression in which people experience feelings of sadness and anxiety as the weather changes. People can experience SAD during any season; however, colder months tend to be the time when people feel the most effects. Millions of adults in the US may have SAD, many unknowingly. It’s more common in women, as well as in more northern regions, where day light hours dwindle significantly in the colder months (NIMH, 2021).
How SAD Affects You
Dealing with anxiety in colder weather may be normal for some people, especially if you are stuck inside for days on end. Buf if you start to feel overwhelmed by anxiety-like symptoms, you may be experiencing the effects of SAD. A few symptoms to look out for include:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping more often
- Difficulty concentrating
How to Beat SAD
If you don’t normally feel these symptoms, this may be an indicator that something is wrong. Without help, conditions like depression and fatigue can stop you from doing what you love, causing damage to both your physical and mental health.
Although Seasonal Depression Awareness Month isn’t until December, that doesn’t mean that you can’t start a self-care routine now. Here are five tips to help you:
1. Talk to Someone
Battling negative thoughts and feelings on your own can be challenging, especially if you’re confused about what you’re experiencing. Talking to a health coach, therapist, or psychologist can help you deal with your emotions and get you the support you need. A medical provider can also help you get on a treatment plan if necessary, with supplements like Vitamin D or other medications that may help ease your anxiety in cold weather.
If possible, seek out an integrated care team that can treat the whole you and connect the dots between your physical, emotional, and behavioral health. Before you make an appointment, keep a journal to log how you’re feeling every day to help you and your providers identify the best course of action to help you say goodbye to seasonal depression.
2. Get Regular Exercise
Post-workout glow aside, the research is undeniable: Physical exercise works wonders for your mood. Studies show regular exercise can reduce your risk of depression and anxiety as well as help treat these conditions (CDC, 2021; Craft, 2004). If you do not get regular exercise, you put yourself at risk for not only mood disorders, but serious chronic diseases and premature death.
The answer? Get moving! Current guidelines recommend 30 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous activity, at least five days per week. But if this goal seems lofty, especially as the weather gets dreary, it’s okay to start smaller. Even exercising 20 minutes per day, three times per week, at a moderate intensity may be enough to help improve symptoms of depression (Craft, 2004). And if the day is grey, a good sweat is still within reach: A cold-weather hike, a brisk indoor yoga flow, or riding a stationary bike all fit the bill!
3. Boost Your Mood With Food
As we learn more about how our lifestyle impacts our health, fields like nutritional psychiatry (which champions the connection between food and mood) are taking root. To boost your mood, research suggests to seriously up your intake of fruits and vegetables (individuals who consumed eight or more servings in this study were the happiest) (Mujcic, 2017). Studies also tout the mood-protective benefits of a Mediterranean diet, rich in antioxidants and gut-healthy fiber from whole grains, legumes, seafood, and leafy vegetables (Jacka, 2017).
What foods should you avoid? Highly processed foods and sugar-sweetened drinks—they may lift your spirits at first, but can ultimately crash your blood glucose and state of mind. While alcohol may be okay for some individuals in moderation, it is still a depressant and should also be limited if mood disorders are a concern.
4. Get a Better Night’s Sleep
Depending on the season, SAD can affect sleep differently. Individuals who experience winter-pattern SAD tend to oversleep, while those with summer-pattern SAD may experience insomnia. If you experience either end of the spectrum, try establishing a healthy sleep routine, which includes a regular bedtime, an optimal sleep environment, correctly timed physical exercise, and avoidance of sleep disruptors like alcohol, coffee, and sugar.
5. Try Light Therapy
Light therapy is another option to try to beat seasonal depression during the cold months. If you are someone who feels like the sunlight recharges you, then consider a light therapy lamp. A mainstay for the treatment of SAD, light therapy lamps mimic natural sunlight and may help some people during those cloudy, cold days. Create a routine by turning on your lamp during the times of day you feel down the most to help boost your mood periodically. Light therapy is not appropriate for everyone, though, so it’s a good idea to speak with your medical provider before making the investment.
Get ahead of the game
If you are prone to seasonal swings in your mood, start establishing these self-care habits now, before the cold sets in. If possible, it may be a good idea to plan a winter getaway to see the sun; but if a warm-weather vacation is not in the forecast, you can always escape with a self-care day, no matter where you are. And should you need help, support is always here; schedule a call to get started with a personalized exercise program, nutrition plan, or to speak with a certified health coach or medical provider at anytime.