8 Tips To Help You Beat SAD
As the darkness falls earlier and earlier and the chilly morning temperatures overstay their welcome, it’s natural for your mood to take a dive headfirst in a case of the winter blues. But are you feeling sad, or do you have SAD?
Seasonal Affective Disorder – or SAD as it’s more commonly known – is a clinical condition that occurs during particular seasons of the year. Roughly one in three hundred Aussies will experience SAD this winter, with females and those with a family history of depression at higher risk. Unlike those experiencing a temporary dip in energy or mood, SAD sufferers face very real emotional and physical challenges. People with SAD struggle with symptoms that mimic those of clinical depression: they have a hard time waking up in the morning, their energy levels drop, they find it tough to concentrate, they eat more, and they withdraw from family and friends, becoming more inclined to hibernate.
The good news is that SAD is treatable. Whether it’s through therapy or other forms of self-care, there are things you can do that have been proven to help alleviate the symptoms associated with SAD.
1. Get Up With The Sun
Disruption to sleep patterns is one of the main signals of a mood disorder such as depression. People suffering with SAD often have trouble sleeping at night and getting up in the morning, or tend to oversleep. Sticking to a regular sleeping pattern can improve your quality of sleep, which may alleviate symptoms of seasonal depression. A regular schedule will also expose you to light at consistent and predictable times.
For dark, winter mornings, consider investing in an alarm clock that simulates the morning light. Rather than waking you abruptly with sound, dawn simulators produce light that gradually increases in intensity, much like the sun. The best dawn simulators use full-spectrum light, which best mimics natural sunlight. Researchers have found that these devices are an effective treatment for those suffering from mild SAD, according to a study published in 2015 in the Journal of Affective Disorders.
2. Supplement With Vitamin D
While cold temperatures can play a role in SAD, the biggest factor tends to be the dearth of sunlight: the best natural source for vitamin D. In a 2014 research report, low levels of vitamin D were linked to seasonal affective disorder, and a study published in the same year found that people who took vitamin D supplements saw significant improvement in their depression.
Upping your vitamin D via a supplement during the winter months may alleviate symptoms of SAD. Consider talking to your doctor about testing your vitamin D levels and whether supplements would be right for you.
3. Add Aromatherapy To Your Routine
Essential oils can influence the area of the brain that’s responsible for controlling moods. People with SAD may be especially responsive to aromatherapy due to an increased olfactory sensitivity common in those suffering from the depression. Different oils can target different problems, but bergamot and lemon oils are among the most widely-researched for positive effects on mood. Alternatively, a study published in 2015 found that essential oils from the poplar tree were found to help depressive disorders.
4. Keep Up The Exercise
Much like it does with other forms of depression, exercise can help ease the symptoms of SAD, too. Exercise can also help offset the weight gain that is common with SAD due to over-eating and extended periods of inertia. If you can, take advantage of what sunlight there is and exercise outdoors, but if the cold is too much to face, choose a studio or gym with lots of natural light.
If you really struggle to motivate yourself, choose a gym close to your home so you don’t have the added task of commuting in the cold weather. No doubt finding a class or form of exercise you really enjoy will make daily exercise much less of a chore, so if your current form isn’t doing it for you, try swapping things up. You might even consider trying out a martial art or a dance class – many places offer free trial sessions so you don’t have to commit before giving it a go.
5. Let the Sunshine In
One of the main causes of seasonal affective disorder is lack of sunlight, so it’s important to make the most of what little sunlight winter offers. Bundle up and get outside during the day as much as you can. Even if you only suffer from the winter blues, a brisk morning walk is a good way to increase endorphins and lift your mood.
If you work in an office, short ten minute breaks a few times a day can be helpful, especially during noon when the sun is at its highest point. When you are indoors, keep your blinds open to let as much natural light in as possible.
6. Try A SAD Lamp
Bright Light Therapy is the most natural and non-invasive treatment for SAD. For those days when the sun doesn’t appear at all, portable light boxes can mimic the sun’s rays and offer you a much-needed dose of “sunshine.”
Light therapy boxes use blue spectrum light to stimulate your body's circadian rhythms and suppress its natural release of melatonin. They’re significantly brighter than regular light bulbs and provided light in different wavelengths to replicate sunshine.
Research shows that the most effective time to use a lightbox is in the early morning, for about one hour of treatment, but due to their portable nature, you can use a lightbox at any time during the day. Try keeping one on your work desk for bursts of light throughout the day.
7. Plan a Trip to Sunnier Climes
While planning a winter holiday may not be feasible for everyone, a trip away to warmer climates can help people who have SAD. Travel does more than offer temporary relief from icy days and dark evenings, it gives you a break from your daily routine. Experiencing something new can boost your mood and exposure to sunlight can kick up levels of serotonin: a mood-regulating chemical that plays a role in triggering SAD.
If you’re time short and budget-restricted, consider a long weekend away somewhere close to home. Even a few days can help improve symptoms of SAD and winter blues.
8. Talk To Your Doctor
Because SAD is a form of depression, we advise talking to a mental health professional. Your doctor will be able to determine whether you’re suffering from SAD or another form of depression and treat you accordingly.
If you have SAD, and initial light therapy has not sufficiently boosted your mood, you may want to discuss psychotherapy or anti-depressants with your doctor.