Winter is a challenging time to get through. It's cold, dark, and miserable outside for nearly four months straight. Biologically, the shift in daylight hours means less exposure to sunshine, leading to potential vitamin D deficiency. This could put you at risk of experiencing seasonal affective disorder.
What's seasonal affective disorder?
Often referred to as the "winter blues," seasonal affective disorder symptoms usually start in fall and last until spring. Most people notice that they feel more depressed, eat more, are lethargic, sleep more, and aren't as interested in being sociable or doing activities. While researchers aren't entirely sure why seasonal affective disorder happens in response to the changing seasons, they believe it has something to do with the body's reaction to shifts in temperature and light levels.
If seasonal affective disorder symptoms are moderate-to-severe, you should seek out professional treatment. Antidepressants prescribed by a psychiatrist can help to alleviate symptoms. Psychotherapy is also a good option -- a psychotherapist can use cognitive behavioral therapy to help manage depressive symptoms.
In addition to medications and psychotherapy, light therapy is often used to treat seasonal affective disorder. During light therapy, you sit near a device called a light therapy box, which gives off bright light that mimics natural outdoor light. It affects brain chemicals that are linked to mood sleep, helping to ease symptoms.
Lifestyle changes can help with seasonal affective disorder, too
If your seasonal affective disorder is mild-to-moderate, specific lifestyle changes can help decrease symptoms:
- Eat more tryptophan. It boosts your mood and calms you down. Good sources include turkey, milk, and egg whites. Try to have at least one serving a day.
- Limit alcohol. A depressant, alcohol will only make you feel low. Try avoiding it altogether.
- Drink herbal tea. Instead of coffee, reach for herbal tea if you're having trouble sleeping or feel more anxious than usual.
- Work out. While it's easy snuggling under your blanket, hit the gym to get your heart pumping. Regular cardio has been shown to boost endorphins, which are feel-good hormones in the brain.
- Go on vacation. Treat yourself to a weekend getaway somewhere sunny. If that's not possible, even visiting a nearby town is helpful.
The good news is that seasonal affective disorder is temporary and can be effectively managed through a combination of medications, light therapy, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes. If you're experiencing depressive symptoms, don't be afraid to reach out for help.