How to Manage Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

At this time of year, our moods tend to mimic the weather: dark, cold, and dreary. It’s hard to get to the gym, or even just out of bed for that matter. We’re overloading on carbs to prepare ourselves for our 10-hour bedroom hibernation from the snowy and windy outdoors. Sometimes this seasonal slump turns into a more serious issue called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). So, I’ve compiled a list of coping strategies to prevent SAD from taking over your life.

 

1. Watch Out for the Carbs

Although stocking up on carbs is a strong tendency people have when winter starts brewing, carbs can dive us deeper into the symptoms of SAD, whereas fruits and vegetables can actually increase our happiness levels and life satisfaction. In the winter, as we get less sunlight, our bodies produce less vitamin D (and this low level isn’t sufficient enough to sustain a healthy lifestyle). So, we need to get it from other sources such as dietary supplements or healthy foods such as salmon, eggs, and orange juice! Omega-3 fatty acids are also key into keeping that nutrition in check.

 

2. Shine Some Light

Not being exposed to sunlight takes a toll on our bodies and our circadian rhythms. The sun goes down much earlier in the day, so light therapy or phototherapy is a great tool to make your mood brighter. During light therapy one sits in front of a light therapy box for about 20 minutes each day. The light box produces similar effects to natural outdoor light. A light box with at least 10,000 lux is optimal for it to be effective, so don’t expect your desk lamp to do the trick. Most light boxes are also UV-free, so blonder locks and tanner skin aren’t results but at least improved mental health is. Light therapy is used for treating SAD, but also for jet lag, non-seasonal depressions, sleep disorders, and dementia as well. You can find light boxes on Amazon or at your local Bed, Bath & Beyond!

 

3. Exercise

Regular exercise is very important when preventing SAD. The best way to get going (when you really don’t want to) in the winter months, is by signing up for a class or making a plan with a friend to make you more accountable. The best is to exercise outside. Even cloudy days provide the exposure to mood-enhancing and vitamin D-packed sunlight. If you don’t have time to exercise, there are always ways to fit it into your schedule. This could include: skipping Ubers for a walk or bike ride, going for a walk during breaks between classes or while you’re on the phone, and going on a hike with friends instead of sitting in a movie theater. Really any activity is better than just sitting down.

 

4. Socialize

Don’t let the snow trap you into solitude. Staying in cozy sheets is nice, but nothing boosts oxytocin in the brain like a good chat. Oxytocin is also known as the “love hormone” and it's associated with relationship building, empathy, trust, and sexual activity. You can raise oxytocin levels with hugging and orgasms. You can even raise levels of oxytocin just by calling someone on the phone instead of texting them!

 

5. Get a Winter-friendly Hobby

Maybe it’s writing songs, working on DIY projects, or learning how to ice skate like they do in Olympics; whatever it is that keeps you busy and makes you happy is a great way to prevent SAD. Don’t let the winter blues and the urge to stay bed keep you from doing your favorite things. If your hobbies are activities that can’t be done in the winter such as gardening or tanning on the beach with a nice book, look for alternatives or tackle new leisure activities. If you can’t think of any hobbies, a website dedicated to beating the winter blues has a list of the ten best hobbies to beat seasonal affective disorder.

 

With these five tips you’re bound to feel better (and brighter) sooner than you know it. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, seasonal affective disorder affects “an estimated 10 to 20 percent of the population.” The disorder affects men and women equally and if you find yourself stuck in a negative rut even after this advice, it’s recommended to go speak to a specialist. For now, eat your vegetables, lean towards the light, walk around a little bit, hug some people and trees, and try a new hobby. It’s crazy how the simple, little things can end up making the greatest of impacts.

 

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