The Side Effects of SAD

Are you feeling tired, unmotivated and just overall gloomy? If so, you may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder, or better known as ‘“the winter blues”. As the overcast grey clouds seem to block out any sunlight from the already short days, it's easy to feel suffocated by the depressing conditions outside. There is science behind this phenomenon, and also many ways to help.

Especially in December, when the sun sets at about 4:30 p.m., the amount of actual daylight is scarce. During those short days, the human body’s circadian rhythm is out of whack. This is critical because the circadian rhythm serves as each person’s internal clock that supports the sleep-wake cycle, body temperature, and eating habits or digestion. As stated by Mental Health America, seasonal affective disorder also influences the production of serotonin-- a brain chemical that affects mood; a dip in this hormone is linked to depression. The reduced sunlight in the winter months can cause a decrease in this hormone- leading people to feel more dreary. In addition to serotonin, melatonin levels are also disrupted. Melatonin, like the circadian rhythm, controls sleep patterns, it rises when the sun sets and drops when the sun rises, however when it is constantly dark outside it can make people more sleepy since more of the hormone is being released.

What can be done to fix this?

First of all, it might be a smart decision to invest in a light therapy box. You can even purchase one at Walmart for $55. The light is nearly 20 times brighter than regular light bulbs, and it helps to naturally produce melatonin and reset the circadian 24-hour clock. In fact, 60-80 percent of people improve greatly from light therapy, according to The US Library of Medicine. Another accessible product to integrate into daily life would be essential oils. Peppermint oil is without a doubt one of the most natural remedies for boosting energy and digestion.

Everyone always says that improved diet and exercise will help make life better, but in this case, it really is true. Eating more nutritious foods, high in vitamins will aid with hunger satisfaction and energy. Not to mention, a great way to boost dopamine levels is to go on a walk outside; afterward, you will feel more motivated and refreshed.  

Brutal winters are not your friend, especially when struggling from SAD.

Winter in the Northern Hemisphere lasts for what seems like forever. Just over a week ago the polar vortex dipped down over North America, the Midwest was especially numb. Chicago, Illinois, had a windchill temperature of negative 50 degrees Fahrenheit and places further north of that even had wind blasts of negative 70. So if you suffer from SAD, it may feel inescapable. Something simple that may really improve your state of mind during the winter is actually to be involved with winter itself. Trying out skiing, snowshoeing or even sledding can bring joy to gloomy winter days. Of course, if winter is seriously not your thing, you could go on a vacation to the tropics. Unfortunately for most people that is not realistic. If worse comes to worst, then seeing a doctor is perhaps the only remedy.

Overall, SAD is a very real condition, and November to March can be a very long stretch for the 14 percent of adults suffering with it. On the bright side, there are a considerable amount of solutions.