The fall and winter seasons are often welcomed with joy because after all, it is the start of the holiday season. The snow, lights, decorations…the happiest holidays in the year are in front of us. But, after the holidays, winter also brings gloomy weather and dark days. A single cloudy day can bring about low feelings in us, and here we have to deal with many days and even weeks with low light. Even as every day sees longer light hours, we can still feel caught in the doldrums of winter. This “winter blues” isn’t just in our minds, as the lack of sunlight can cause physical symptoms, called Seasonal Affective Disorder. How do we deal with this…? We can and we know how!
But first things first…
Causes of winter SADness – Seasonal Affective Disorder
According to the Mayo Clinic, this is the form of depression that’s related to seasonal changes (hence the name), because it starts and ends with certain seasons. Seasonal Affective Disorder is not necessarily related only to winter, but this cold season is by far the most difficult to deal with.
The exact underlying causes remain so far unknown, but if we take a look at the environmental changes and causes, we can easily make a connection with a few things:
- Biological clock – a small amount of sunlight, long nights/short days may create real confusion in our internal clock, so our rhythm of normal daily activities gets disrupted, which leads to depression
- Serotonin – low sunlight causes a drop in levels of this hormone that directly affects mood, which triggers depression.
- Melatonin – this hormone plays a huge role in a proper sleeping regime. We all know how bad we feel after a week of tight deadlines, a lot of work (or any other obligations) and not enough sleep…not good. Bad sleep patterns for a prolonged time leads to stress and depression, which are at the top of the list of modern life’s health issues.
Risks and complications
Just like with every other disorder there are certain predispositions to Seasonal Affective Disorder, for example, women are more affected by SAD than men. Age also plays a role, as it seems that young adults are more affected than older people facing the same winter weather.
A family history of SAD and other health issues like bipolar disorder adds to the risk, as well.
Geographical location is perhaps one of the most common predispositions, for obvious reasons, as there are dramatic differences in seasonal changes and hours of daylight depending on where you live. The Nordic areas have more inhabitants suffering from SAD than those areas closer to the equator. In the United States, the range goes from 1.4% of inhabitants of Florida suffering from SAD to 9.9% in Alaska.
Complications of SAD are numerous, but just like with prolonged depression and stress those can be:
- Problems at work or school
- Social problems and withdrawal
- Abuse of drugs and alcohol
- Anxiety and eating disorders
These can be very serious complications, which may even lead to suicidal thoughts.
What can we do?
If we are diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder there are plenty of things we can do. One of the most frequently prescribed treatments is light treatment or phototherapy. Basically, this treatment mimics natural sunlight which in turn stimulates the normal daily rhythm and normal hormonal responses.
A study showed remission of 2/3 of the patients with mild Seasonal Affective Disorder after they received light therapy early in the morning.
Another good idea may be to use sunrise/sunset mimicking alarm clocks. These are made to imitate the slow rising and setting of the sun (in appropriate colors), in the morning or in the evening. This should get your natural inner clock started and in-turn support natural daily rhythm.
One very important habit that we should avoid is staying at home. Spending time in an enclosed space, in the dark and gloomy weather will only worsen symptoms.
Our bodies are made to adapt and overcome. We need to keep moving. Physical exercising is a great morale and hormone booster, especially when done outside. Unless it is very cold, we should exercise outside. A brisk walk in the park is a great start, and if there is some exercise equipment available, why not try it out? Activities that we can do both outdoors and indoors are a great choice, as we can switch between these environments, and get the most from each. These activities include yoga, Tai-Chi, stretching, etc. When exercising, our body releases endorphins, which affect the feeling of pain, and also improves our mood and triggers positive feelings.
One very rewarding physical activity is gardening. We obviously can’t go outside and work in the garden in the middle of the winter, but we can work on our indoor plants. We can get some nice plants and seeds, pots and fertilizer, and create a very nice and colorful interior. This will keep us occupied and creative, and plants will definitely cheer up the whole house, which in turn will improve our mood.
Music and art as a form of therapy can be very pleasing. This can be done either individually or in groups, but is well-known for keeping your mind occupied and stimulating rewarding and pleasant-feeling creativity.
In the old days when societies were still young, winter would bring people together, as it would increase the chance of survival. Today we can survive without a large group of people, but humans as social beings need company. Spending the long winter nights surrounded by loved ones is a great way of improving the way we feel. There are people we need, and there are people that need us. One ritual we still share with early humans is the gathering around food. The preparation and cooking of meals we will share with our loved ones is a fulfilling ritual not only during the holiday season, especially if we prepare healthy and nutrient-rich food.
Visit somewhere nice
And of course, the most obvious way to overcome SADness is to spend a winter break somewhere nice…somewhere where there is plenty of sunshine and nice weather. It doesn’t have to be the Bahamas… you can also enjoy all of the snowy winter magic of the mountains, on a nice day full of sunshine. It is important that it feels good, and sometimes the very fact that you are in another place for a couple of weeks can recharge you, and help you feel good.
Why is it important to feel good?
When we feel down, we can’t function properly. If every day’s activities are an absolute burden we will sink even more and this may even lead to depression. Among other problems, our health will begin to deteriorate, and that is something that can become quite damaging.
With very simple physical and social activities we can dramatically improve our mood and physical health.
Winter is a challenge to the body and mind even without Seasonal Affective Disorder. In order to stay healthy, we must be active and proactive. Our immunity often gets compromised, as well, during the winter even when we are in the best of moods. So, when Seasonal Affective Disorder hits us we must be especially vigilant. A good way to support health is with a strong immune system. Bio-Pro Plus is a great natural immunity balancing supplement which stimulates the production of T-cells, which are very much needed in the body’s defence system.
Seasonal Affective Disorder can hit us at any time, but most people are affected during the winter. We can fight it with very simple and effective activities. These activities will elevate our mood and we will stay healthy both mentally and physically.