Do you find yourself feeling less than your usual self during the winter? This isn't abnormal: Colder weather, less sunlight, changes in diet, increased stress, and altered exercise patterns can all contribute to seasonal depression. But by tackling some of these aspects individually, you can fight off the winter blues.
Natural Rhythms Affected
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, may affect up to 20 percent of Americans at various times in their lives, according to Psychology Today. SAD often makes a first appearance when people are in their 20s, and as the Mayo Clinic explains, younger people, women, and those living closer to the north and south poles are most at risk for SAD. Places far from the equator see daylight patterns change the most. When daily sunlight cycles change, it alters internal rhythms, which can lead to SAD.
Signs of Seasonal Depression
When people have SAD, they oversleep, according to the Mayo Clinic. Many have changes in appetite that lead to weight gain. Some say that their arms and legs feel stiff, while others add that they are grouchier, more emotionally sensitive to little things, and less likely to get along with people.
Tips to Fight SAD
It's best to tackle the individual elements of your daily life that can affect SAD symptoms:
- Set your clocks. A regular sleep pattern is a universal means of improving your physical and mental state. Go to bed at the same time every night, and wake up at the same time each morning. Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and food for several hours before bed helps your body ready itself for sleep, as does maintaining a peaceful presleep environment with no TV or loud music.
- Step up your exercising. Exercise helps keep appetite, sleep, and mood in check. As little as 30 minutes a day can bring energy levels back up and weight back down. In fact, the more aerobic exercise you can do every day, the better you'll likely feel in body and mind.
- Be aware of your diet. Combat weight gain by making a meal plan and sticking to it. By following a plan, you'll be more in control of what you eat, how much you weigh, and how you feel.
The Blues Meter
Be aware of signs of something more serious than slight sadness. It's very appropriate to see a doctor if you feel depressed more days than not, if you struggle to get regular sleep, if your weight changes substantially, if you lose interest in things you used to enjoy, or if you begin to feel a lingering sense of worthlessness or hopelessness.
Your doctor will examine you for other causes of these feelings and changes and ask if you have ever been depressed before or if anyone in your family has been diagnosed with depression or SAD. Therapy can come in many forms, either with special lights, some medication, or counseling.
If you are having trouble with work or school this winter because of sadness, your family physician will work with you to find a way through it. With the support of your doctor and family, these issues are manageable during the winter season and can help you feel more like yourself throughout the rest of the year.