September 22nd marks the first day of fall. It’s time to break out the warmer clothes, enjoy the cooler weather and finally take advantage of all of those soup and stew recipes you’ve been collecting during the past several months.
Unfortunately, for many, the end of summer also carries with it the beginning of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. What is SAD and how can you beat these early symptoms before they grow into something much more difficult to handle?
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of seasonal depression that begins affecting people in the fall and winter months. While it is difficult to determine the specific cause of any type of depression, the common consensus is that SAD, in particular, is caused by the lack of sunlight during the winter months. It’s more severe than the ‘winter blues’ that many people experience due to the holidays or simply due to being trapped inside because of the weather. SAD symptoms include:
- Fatigue and oversleeping
- Low energy levels
- Weight gain
- Appetite changes
- Irritability and social avoidance or anxiety.
If these symptoms progress to the point that they are negatively affecting a person’s daily life, it’s possible that it’s more than just winter blues — it could be Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Thankfully, there are plenty of things you can try to help improve or eliminate the symptoms of SAD.
Step Into the Light
One of the most commonly cited causes of SAD is the lack of light caused by shorter winter days, so the best solution would be to head south for the winter, where there is more available sunlight. If that’s not an option, then light therapy is a way help mitigate the symptoms of SAD at home.
30 minutes a day sitting in front of a white light source such as a light box can improve the symptoms of Seasonal Affective disorder throughout those shorter, darker winter days. It’s important to note, however, that tanning beds are not a good source of light for light therapy. The UV light doesn’t provide the same effects as white light, and too much UV light can damage your skin and eyes.
The lack of sunlight can also cause vitamin D deficiencies, which can lead to depression as well. Consider getting your vitamin D levels checked and talk to your doctor about whether or not it’s necessary to add a supplement to your diet.
Get Ready to Move It
As with any other form of depression, exercising is a great way to keep those symptoms at bay. Study after study has shown the benefit of exercise on mental health.
If you live in an area where it’s too cold or too snowy to safely get outside and exercise, consider a gym membership during the winter months. Look into gyms that offer contract-free memberships, so once the summer months roll around, it’ll be a lot easier to decide if you want to keep the membership or not.
Eat a Healthy Diet
One of the most common symptoms of SAD is an increase in cravings for sugary or starchy foods. This is because these foods provide a brief serotonin boost, making you feel a little better for a short period of time. Unfortunately, that boost wears off quickly and often leaves you feeling worse than before.
Eating a healthy diet, especially one that’s high in omega-3 fatty acids is a great way to counteract these cravings. A good meal that includes things like salmon or other fatty fish ideal to get these nutrients into your diet. Add a bit of color with some fruits and veggies to get even more of those crucial nutrients to keep you feeling better.
Dark chocolate can be a great way to improve your mood as well, but don’t go picking up a bar of Hershey’s Special Dark — while tasty, it doesn’t have the amount of pure cocoa you need to be of any benefit. Consuming about an ounce of dark chocolate a day (think 80%+ cocoa) has been shown to help improve depression symptom.
Be careful though — too much of a good thing can actually lead to increased depression symptoms, so you have to find a balance between the benefits of dark chocolate and the risks.
Conclusion — Ask for Help
When it comes right down to it, seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression, and if you’re struggling or feel like you can’t manage it yourself, it’s important to seek out professional help. SAD affects about half a million people every winter season, so if your symptoms are affecting your daily life and are not responding to lifestyle changes, then it’s time to ask for help.
There are plenty of things you can try before you reach out to your doctor, and if they work for you, then you’re golden. If they’re not working, or your symptoms are getting worse, it’s okay to reach out to someone else for help.
The winter months can be amazingly beautiful, but they can also be a difficult time for people across the country. The suggestions we’ve mentioned above can help to improve your symptoms as soon as they start to appear, so why wait for the dead of winter? Start now, and you may even find yourself looking forward to the first snowfall of the season.