I don’t know about you, but I really miss the sun during the winter months. By the time February rolls around, I am a pale, tired, depressed little person.
Today, I spent a few hours in the sunlight running errands and I felt like a junky that finally got her fix. Normally, I spend daylight hours sitting in an office with no windows, so you know, sunlight is kind of a rare weekend treat for me.
As a person highly sensitive to the lack of sunlight, I struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and over the years have come up with a few ways to deal.
What is the Seasonal Affective Disorder?
This disorder is often called the “winter blues” because it usually happens during the colder months when there is little sunlight during the day.
People who get the winter blues usually report having changes in mood and depression during the winter months, but otherwise normal mental health during the rest of the year.
Wikipedia describes patters of the Seasonal Affective disorder as:
Does that sound like you?
It’s possible. In the northern hemisphere, that’s actually a common disorder, and the farther north you go, the more likely you are to encounter it.
In Alaska, up to 9.9% of the population suffer from it, whereas in Florida – the “sunshine” state – only about 1.4% of the population report having SAD.
The disorder also appears to be more common in women than in men. It can become stronger as you get older (I can attest to that) and sometimes, depending on whatever else is happening in your life, it can be really hard to get through the day.
How to fight Seasonal Affective Disorder
Psychologists recommend light therapy, talk therapy, and in some cases, medication.
I am no psychologist, however I am sharing the things that have helped me. This is for informational purposes only! Please see a doctor if your seasonal affective disorder becomes unmanageable – there’s nothing wrong with seeking help.
Anyways, below are the things that I found to be helpful to treat my winter blues. Some days are better than others, and some of these tips make a real difference in my day.
I do not necessarily suggest you do what I do, I am simply sharing what it is that I do. I do what I can to stay sane with a full-time job, horrible student loan debt, complete lack of sunlight, and everything that comes along with that 😉
I know everybody recommends exercise, which is the main reason I ignored it for a long time. Exercise seems to be the cliche cure-all, touted by people who are avid fitness advocates.
I’m not one of those people. I’m too lazy to spend hours at the gym every day. Maybe if I didn’t work and had more time to myself, I’d be more into it, but at this point in life working out hasn’t been my thing.
However, a few weeks ago I decided to try working out just for a few minutes every day, hoping the endorphin rush will be enough to make a difference in my mood.
As a result, I’ve been much happier (and noticed a 6-pack forming!)
My routine is super easy, and only takes about 25 minutes. I do it when I come home from work – that way I don’t need to wake up super early to work out (lol that would never happen!)
I’ve learned that you don’t need to dedicate a lot of time or effort to enjoy the psychological benefits of exercise. Even a light workout can improve your mood for the rest of the day, so why not give it a try?
Another activity people often avoid because it seems like too much of a commitment is meditation. Meditation has done wonders for my mental health and I only spend about 10-20 minutes a day on it.
Meditation can take many forms – even coloring can be meditative. So don’t think that it’s too hard or too time-consuming – everyone can meditate.
Look into some meditation apps (like Headspace) to help you get started or simply buy an adult coloring book, a pack of colored pencils, and dive in!
Yoga is like a combination of exercise and meditation: the physical aspect of it increases your endorphin levels, while the metaphysical side improves your mental state and clears your mind.
As with exercise, you only need to dedicate about a half an hour of your day in order to experience the positive benefits of yoga.
Have a glass of wine with dinner
Wine… need I say more?
As I mentioned, light therapy is a treatment supported by most psychologists for people suffering from the winter blues. Since SAD is attributed to the lack of sunlight (and the subsequently lower Vitamin D and serotonin levels), exposing yourself to a special light which imitates sunlight can be really helpful.
You can buy light therapy lights on Amazon for under $100. I keep mine on my office desk and use it for around 30 minutes a day to make a noticeable difference in my mood and energy levels.
Some herbs and plants are known for their mood-enhancing properties because they contain natural compounds that have therapeutic properties.
For example, diffusing essential oils can help you feel happier, especially if you use oils like lavender, which contains tons of phytochemicals (alpha-terminal, borneol, lavandulyl acetate, camphene, farnesene, beta caryophyllene, limonene, camphor, cineole, and pinene) that offer mood improving benefits.
I carry around a roll-on essential oil blend for stress management, and it really helps (especially when I’m at work and start thinking about my pointless existence – this blend calms me down in an instance!).
I can’t remember all the oils I mixed in it, but it definitely contains lavender, Roman chamomile, ylang ylang and sandalwood essential oils.
Other natural mood enhancers I’ve found to work well are: cocoa powder, THC, St. John’s wort, grapefruit oil, rose oil, chamomile tea, and milk thistle tea.
I am one of those people who believe that resorting to pills (like antidepressants) does more harm than good, and should only be done when absolutely necessary.
For me, it has always made sense to try natural treatments first, and thankfully I’ve never had to resort to pharmaceuticals to treat my SAD.
Another way to deal with the winter blues is to go straight for the cause of the problem and raise your low vitamin D levels.
When the weather was warmer, I would go for a little walk behind my office building during lunchtime. I believe the 15 or so minutes of daylight was enough to raise my Vitamin D levels to a normal range. I would instantly feel better.
Now that it’s freezing, I’ve been forced to spend my lunch hour indoors, in the office building with no windows. It has taken a noticeable toll on me. I’ve been raising my Vitamin D levels through the use of the lamp I mentioned earlier, but before I ordered one I relied on other sources.
I made sure to take a supplement every day as well as some fermented cod liver oil, which contains Vitamin D. It helped me get through those few weeks before I got the therapy lamp.
Well, this is it folks! These things are my arsenal against the seasonal affective disorder and I swear by them. I hope this gives you some ideas and maybe even helps you get through the rest of the winter.
Here’s the good news – Punxsutawney Phil (that’s the groundhog) did not see his shadow this year, which means Spring 2016 will come soon 🙂 We’re almost there, you guys.