We recently turned back the clocks for daylight savings, and while getting that extra hour for a day was a bonus to some, the ‘Fall Back’ means lack of sunlight and shorter days which can equate to mild depression for many.
Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a form of depression that comes and goes with the season and the amount of – or lack of – sunlight that we are exposed to. It affects up to 3% of the population or 10 million people in the USA.
SAD is four times more common among women than men and increases in frequency and severity the further away you get from the equator. The numbers are also higher among those who already struggle with depression and those with bipolar disorder.
Symptoms of SAD can include:
- feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Losing interest in activities you typically enjoy
- fatigue and a tendency to oversleep
- change in appetite leading to weight gain
- loss of energy
- feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
- irritability and increased sensitivity
- difficulty concentrating
- thoughts of suicide
Getting as much time outside and as much sunlight as possible during the winter months is key. But sometimes that’s not enough. What then?
Three proven tactics to help stave off SAD include:
Exercise is beneficial for anyone who is suffering from depression because it releases endorphins, which are hormones that reduce pain and increase feelings of well-being.
Additionally, exercise increases your metabolism, which helps improve your energy levels. Exercise also helps to increase self-esteem, improve sleep and reduce anxiety.
When it comes to health, including mental health, diet matters.
Many people who struggle with seasonal depression find that they crave carbs or sweets and comfort food. This is a lose/lose situation because those foods can make you feel even more sluggish and fatigued and cause weight gain.
Choose lean proteins. Turkey is especially good because of its higher levels of tryptophan. Look for foods high in Vitamin D, such as salmon, tuna, milk, and egg yolks. Stay away from soda, sugary foods, refined carbohydrates, and alcohol.
For more help with proper nutrition, consider working with a VIDA Nutritionist if you feel you need more guidance.
During the winter months when it’s dark and cold it’s easy to ‘hibernate’ and not be as social. You may find yourself choosing the couch over being among others. But enjoying time with community, friends, and other like-minded individuals is actually just what you need if you are dealing with mild depression.
Evidence links social isolation with depression, poor sleep quality, higher anxiety, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline and higher suicide rates, so make sure you are continuing to connect with others regularly.
So, as we head into the winter months if you find yourself feeling low, don’t brush it off as a case of the “winter blues.” Take healthy steps turn it around and keep your mood and motivation steady this year!