When the damp and dreary winter months descend darkly upon you, do you find yourself a little down or depressed? Or perhaps you feel less productive, less energetic or less creative? Or maybe you are sleeping and eating more?
According to senior researcher Dr Norman E Rosenthal at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and author of Winter Blues, says answering yes to any of these telling signs may suggest you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This biochemical imbalance is triggered largely by lack of sunlight and can cause even the most happiest of people, to become depressed during the winter months.
The research reveals a lack of light decreases mood-regulating or ‘happy’ hormone serotonin, and stimulates sleep-inducing or ‘hibernation’ hormone melatonin, which can lead to depression when high concentrations are consistently present in the body.
SAD symptoms include: depression and anxiety; lethargy; overeating, especially carbohydrates and sweets; poor sleep, insomnia, decreased libido; poor concentration; social withdrawal; and body aches and pains. Symptoms usually reappear each winter, and an official diagnosis is generally made after two consecutive winters.
Research suggests that fitness can help with symptoms of SAD. In fact, there’s convincing evidence that 30 minutes of vigorous exercise at least three times a week is an effective way to combat seasonal depression.
GET SOME LIGHT:
Light helps the body produce serotonin which is the hormone that affects mood– and reduces the production of melatonin, which is the hormone that makes you sleepy.
Starting with natural light is best, even though it’s not easy. If the sun happens to be peeking out from the clouds, try and get outside for a nice walk. Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help. Making your your work and home environments as light and airy as possible and sitting near windows can help too.
If you feel you’re just simply not able to get enough natural light, you can try Light Therapy by purchasing a SAD light at places like this: https://northernlighttechnologies.ca/ or this https://www.costco.ca/light-therapy.html.
Light Therapy can start alleviating symptoms in just a few days.
EXERCISE AND DIET
Exercise and other types of physical activity help relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase SAD symptoms. Working out intensely for just 30 minutes a day can drastically reduce the symptoms of SAD.
GET SOME VITAMIN D
When exposure to sunlight is low, your body makes less Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency affects many people, but particularly those living in cold climates or in places where the sun seems sometimes elusive. Vitamin D is imperative for overall health, but be sure to consult your physician before taking any supplements.
If you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity, take a winter vacation to a sunny, warm location if you feel the SAD is too overwhelming. A sunny getaway, although short-lived can definitely help to improve your symptoms.
A combination of exercise and light is one of the most effective treatments for SAD, according to various research. A study by Duke University found depressed people who exercised for 30 minutes at least three times a week felt less depressed. So next time you’re feeling a little blue, look to the light and get moving!