Fall is here, and winter is following close behind. The nights are getting longer and the days shorter while cold seeps into the mornings and evenings. That’s simply part of the season, but this loss of sunlight, cold air, and restricted access to the outdoors can take a toll on our mental health. We well know that our extra doses of all of these in 2020 weren't great for mental health.
But SAD isn’t the only thing to worry about as autumn appears. The stress of the upcoming holidays can also increase depression and anxiety. Both SAD and holiday stress can affect other mental health disorders too. Add to all of this the extra stresses of the last two years, and we're all ready to snap.
It should be noted that fall/winter isn’t the only culprit either. Some people experience SAD in summer, where heat makes it difficult to go outdoors and sunlight keeps them up at different times. There are some things you can do though, no matter the season.
What Causes SAD?
Circadian Rhythms – The changing seasons disrupt our natural rhythms of day and night. Many of us do not handle this change well.
Serotonin – As we are exposed to less light, more stress, and sleep disruptions, our serotonin levels drop. Serotonin is linked to mood and appetite.
Melatonin – Serotonin and melatonin are linked, so as one is disrupted the other can be as well. Melatonin is linked to healthy sleep.
Symptoms of SAD
Low Energy or Fatigue
Disinterest in Activities You Enjoy
Changes in Appetite and Weight
Irritability or Agitation
Loss of Concentration
Ways to Beat SAD
Act – First things first, don’t ignore the early signs of sadness. SAD isn’t just the “winter blues”, but a serious drop in your everyday well-being. It’s important to notice the symptoms and take care of yourself.
Open the Blinds – Take advantage of any sunny day. Open the blinds and the curtains whenever there is sunlight. Open the windows and the doors when it is warm enough. Stand in the full sun and soak it in.
Get Out – Take a walk outside when the weather allows. Sunlight and fresh air help.
Light Therapy – A full spectrum light can ease the blues of the season in a matter of days or weeks, depending on the severity of the SAD. Sit in full exposure for 20 to 60 minutes once or twice a day.
Cardio – Exercise can be just as effective as light therapy. Just 20 minutes of cardio can boost serotonin levels. Try to keep your exercise to the morning or afternoon. Night isn’t a good time to get your heart running, or you may cause more problems sleeping.
Cut Back – Limit your alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and processed foods as much as possible. You should still enjoy the holidays, but take care of yourself at the same time.
Supplement – There are quite a few supplements that can help with SAD.
- Vitamin D – This vitamin is created by sun exposure and may be linked to serotonin levels.
- Fish Oil – The omega 3s in fish go hand and hand with vitamin D to combat depression.
- Melatonin – Known to help you sleep better and recharge.
- L-Theanine – Found in matcha, this amino acid can ease anxiety while improving focus.
- St John’s Wort – A flowering herb that can help with depression.
- Passionflower – Calms anxieties and helps with sleep.
Aromatherapy – Use calming essential oils to aid sleep and energizing oils to get you moving in the mornings.
Manage Stress – Yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises can improve the symptoms of SAD by letting you control your stress levels, sleep better, and find focus.
See a Professional – If you suffer from depression, manic disorders, bipolar disorders, or find yourself feeling hopeless, worthless, or suicidal, it is time to seek help. If you’re leaning on alcohol or drugs to cope, you should also seek help.
Take a Vacation – If you can’t break yourself free from the blues, it may be time to break free physically. Go somewhere warm, sunny, and full of things you love and enjoy. Doesn't have to be far, a day or two a few hours south of your locale can do wonders.Be Kind – Be good to yourself. We're all too hard on ourselves. Don’t direct negative thoughts or words at yourself for unproductivity, fatigue, overeating, or any other missteps. Treat yourself as you would a friend in the same situation. That will make a huge difference.