Welcome to daylight savings time! It’s that time of year when days get shorter, darkness grows longer, and your energy and spirit can be eclipsed. SAD abounds.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, “About 4 to 6 percent of people may have winter depression. Another 10 to 20 percent may have mild SAD. SAD is four times more common in women than in men. Although some children and teenagers get SAD, it usually doesn’t start in people younger than age 20.”
That equals a whopping up to 63,780,000 people in the U.S.A. with SAD and/or mild depression in the winter!
- decreased energy
- increased appetite (for sweets & starches)
- weight gain
- reduced socialization
- increased sleep
- lower productivity
- less enthusiasm
It results from a lack of sunlight. The sun provides needed vitamin D which supports calcium metabolism and neuromuscular and immune system functioning. According to NIH (National Institute of Health), sunlight increases blood levels of natural opiates called endorphins, regulates melatonin production – the hormone responsible for sleep, and serotonin – a hormone and neurotransmitter responsible for mood, appetite, sleep, memory, and learning. It’s no wonder we don’t feel our best when the source of these vital functions is waning and real physiological changes are happening.
Here’s what you can do to keep feelin’ the summertime sunshine:
- Adjust Your Schedule – Wake up earlier. Go outside. Get more sunlight. The sun’s schedule has changed. Yours should, too! We are diurnal creatures. We need to be awake and active during the daytime. This is how our bodies were designed to thrive.
- Sleep in Complete Darkness – It increases melatonin which improves the quality of sleep. Your brain cleanses itself of toxic molecules during sleep by increasing the space between cells and flushing its pathways with cerebrospinal fluid. This helps focus, attention, and memory during the day. When you wake up to light, serotonin production takes over.
- Light Therapy – These are white fluorescent lights behind a plastic diffusing screen, which filters out ultraviolet rays. For 25 years, studies have demonstrated success in improving mood with light therapy. Reportedly, 30 minutes in the mornings seem to be optimal for light therapy – it kick starts uplifting serotonin and reduces sleepy melatonin.
- Exercise – It increases calming hormones, lowers stress hormones, and keeps your body strong. Go for walks. Take a yoga class. Enjoy winter sports like skiing or snowboarding. To boot, new studies are showing increased capacity for learning following only 4 minutes of increased heart rate prior to study.
- Be Social with Those Who Lift You Up – It’s healthy to surround yourself with people who inspire and support you. If you’re noticing your company bringing you down, then reconsider who you receives your valuable time. Your health depends on it.
- Stress Management – There are many ways to manage stress. Some of my favorites are reciting positive mantras, daily journaling, practicing gratitude, meridian tapping, and meditation. Anything you can do to shift your attention to the good, will improve your mood. So, slow down, practice positive self care, and honor your needs.
- Psychotherapy – If it feels too difficult to handle SAD on your own, find a Licensed Mental Health Counselor to help you through the dark season. The symptoms of S.A.D. can be as severe as Major Depressive Disorder. The only difference is that it lasts about 4 -5 months – the duration of winter and reduced sunlight.
- Medication – Consult with your Physician or Counselor if you want to consider an antidepressant. There’s no shame in taking medication for a condition. You wouldn’t think twice if you were medicating a blood, organ, or pain issue. The same applies to your mental health.
Awareness and a proactive plan will keep you functioning your best through the winter. Get ready to make adjustments to your routine and combat the dimming days ahead. You can and will preserve your mojo when you take action to keep your energy up.
It’s normal to get tired and go to bed a little earlier in the winter. Your body is programmed to sleep when it’s dark. Don’t fight it. It’s your body’s natural way of adjusting to the environmental changes. Get your 7-8 hours of brain cleansing and body restoring sleep and start fresh the next day. Remember, Spring is just around the corner. Longer days are only six weeks away.
Photos courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net by nenetus, podpad, nenetus.