It’s the most wonderful time of the year. We welcome the snow, early setting sun—perfect for early evening cocoa on the couch—and sadness. While we may wish “Joy to the World” this season, we could feel something quite the opposite inside.
SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a form of depression bought on by a change in season. Given winter’s shorter days, the decreased exposure to sunlight can lower your levels of serotonin and melatonin, a neurotransmitter and hormone respectively both essential to sleep. As a result, this decrease can upset your circadian rhythm, “a 24-hour internal clock that…cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals” as defined by the National Sleep Foundation. Symptoms of SAD include unexplained lack of motivation or focus, sadness (naturally given its acronym), irritability, difficulty sleeping and changes in appetite perhaps leading to weight gain or loss. Unlike other types of depression, symptoms arrive and disappear at the same respective points each year; they’re consistent. And, yes, although commonly associated with the winter months, for some, it can arrive in the spring or early summer.
Like stress as discussed in our recent post, SAD can be difficult to self-diagnose and consultation with a health professional is recommended, particularly if the symptoms heighten or result in drug or alcohol abuse or suicidal thoughts. Here are five ways to fight symptoms of SAD and hopefully mitigate continuous outcries of “Bah Humbug!”
Get outside and get active
If the sun won’t come to you, go after it. (Despite, how it sounds, I’m not doling out “reach for the stars”-type philosophical advice.) Bundle up (i.e. toughen up) and take a long walk outside. If wintry treks aren’t your scene, check out outdoor holiday festivities from now through to the end of December or window shop along your favourite shopping strips.
Light therapy (or phototherapy) is a thing. (Check out this season of HBO’s Broad City for how not to do light therapy.) Although research on the treatment is limited, regular exposure to a light box within the first few hours of waking can assist with symptoms bought on by SAD. As in with any investment—we’re talking upwards of $100 here—do your research before splurging.
Yes, mediation, among all its other benefits also can help with the winter blues. While there are resources online—check out Mindful magazine’s website for recorded guided meditations—often a class provides both the guidance and space to allow you truly unwind. If your college campus doesn’t offer classes, look into local yoga studios.
While expensive that Reading Week trip may be just what you need. Aim for simplicity—don’t pack your days with excursions—and travel alone or with friends you trust will keep any possible drama to a minimum. Sometimes all we need for the ultimate tropical vacation is a good beach read and an ice-cold drink.
Perhaps the simplest and cheapest (although not necessarily the easiest) form of treatment against SAD is conversation. Make an appointment with your family doctor or at the campus clinic to discuss your feelings. Otherwise start with friends and family. When we share our struggles (with the right sounding board), the support can prove tenfold.