Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is like any other condition. It doesn’t make you a weak person because you suffer from it. And like any disorder, it can be treated, and prevented, if proper measures are taken. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is SAD?
Seasonal affective disorder can be far more debilitating than milder conditions. Evidence suggests that it is caused when our circadian rhythm is disrupted. Our well-being can rely on consistent light exposure, and those dark, winter months create a light shortage. SAD is common in areas where colder temperatures and short days are more prevalent. If you have the condition, you likely are aware of the symptoms and its effects. Otherwise, it’s important to know certain warning signs, so you can take action. For example, do you find yourself sleeping more, perhaps in conjunction with diminished energy and an increasingly erratic sleep schedule? Are you less inclined to socialize or be active, to the point of isolation? Has your diet changed, with a greater focus on comfort foods? These can be compelling signs that you may be developing SAD, and this is especially true if you or your family has a history of depression. If you notice any signs, it’s imperative that you reach out to a doctor for further advice.
Cold can be a major inhibitor for maintaining healthy routines and can contribute to the onset of SAD. Eating healthily is one habit that can fall by the wayside. Having a nutritious diet can influence gut health and help our bodies to stay in good condition and produce chemicals that can enhance mood. Also, think about your daily schedule and what you can do to stay active and stimulated. Getting outside is beneficial. Find ways to go outdoors, not only to raise your energy levels through physical activity but improve mood. Socialize with loved ones, no matter how brief. Make visits to your local park, or take a walk around the neighborhood. At home, find ways to process your emotions. Those dark nights can leave us restless, with only one’s thoughts for company. Meditation or journaling, even a fun movie night with loved ones, can potentially make a world of difference in the home.
Thankfully, there are ways to replicate the brightness of summer. At the very least, keep curtains and blinds open throughout the day. Trim hedges or trees — anything that deprives your home of some natural light. Adding artificial light through the home can be beneficial, as well. Dedicated devices might also be something to invest in. Dawn simulators, which use full-spectrum lighting, can reproduce a bright morning. This helps us wake up more naturally, and aids efforts to maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Light boxes, meanwhile, can provide a form of light therapy. Many of these use fluorescent lights and, when used daily, can offer light comparable to a summer’s day. While it is not a complete substitute for natural light, it is still a welcome brightness during the winter months.
Adapt Your Environment
Consider making adjustments to your environment. Look at the rooms you spend most of your time in. What could be done to brighten them? A fresh coat of paint in a radiant, happy color can positively influence mood and spirit. Even a few embellishments on furniture, such as some colorful throw pillows or bedding, can transform the ambiance of a room. Decor, too, can be impactful. Add paintings you find emotionally inspiring or photographs that remind you of joyous and happy moments in your life. You might even place a few motivational posters around your home to give you gentle reassurances. As an extra touch, use plants to further your home’s coziness and color. They may have the additional benefit of providing you with a low-intensity responsibility that you can add to your daily routine.
Winter can be a difficult time, so we need to monitor ourselves closely during the darker months. If you notice any signs, speak to your doctor immediately, and do your best to maintain healthy routines. This winter, take positive steps to make your mental well-being a priority in your life.
This is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal or medical advice.
Kimberly Hayes enjoys writing about health and wellness and created PublicHealthAlert.info to help keep the public informed about the latest developments in popular health issues and concerns. In addition to studying to become a crisis intervention counselor, Kimberly is hard at work on her new book, which discusses the ins and outs of alternative addiction treatments.