This time of the year is my least favorite. It’s usually the coldest time in the Northern hemisphere, the days are getting longer but the cold and snow hits in and I just feel like cocooning until the first rays of spring sunshine. I rarely leave the house (running shoes are happily hibernating too), I have a loss of appetite and a cloud of overall bad mood floats around me. I get bummed out for no reason at all. I get irritable. Despite being sleepy and tired, I can’t sleep for more than a few hours at a time and I’m more tired than usual. I just feel blah.
Some people call this the winter blues. For me, the closer spring is, the harder it gets. Winter feels like it’s never ending (are we part of Game of Thrones?), the cold wind gets to my bones even under my thick duvet, there’s not enough hot tea to warm me up…
Did you know that people who suffer from mood disorders are more likely to develop Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? For half of my life, getting SAD was almost a guarantee each and every year.
The exact cause of S.A.D. is not 100 percent clear, but it is likely a combination of seasonal changes in the body’s circadian rhythm and levels of melatonin and serotonin. Women, people who suffer from depression, and those who have a family history of S.A.D. and/or depression are at the greatest risk for S.A.D.
Symptoms Of Seasonal Affective Disorder
John Hopkins Medicine lists these as symptoms of SAD:
- Increased sleep and daytime drowsiness
- Loss of interest and pleasure in activities formerly enjoyed
- Social withdrawal and increased sensitivity to rejection
- Irritability and anxiety
- Feelings of guilt and hopelessness
- Fatigue, or low energy level
- Decreased sex drive
- Decreased ability to focus or concentrate
- Trouble thinking clearly
- Increased appetite, especially for sweets and carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Physical problems, such as headaches
Though there are things you can do at home to help battle the winter blues, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please reach out to your family doctor or mental health professional.
I collected the home remedies I like to use, as well as some of my clients favorite ways to to prevent and deal with my SAD in holistic, natural ways.
Holistic Ways to Relieve Seasonal Affective Disorder
Use a light box for 30 minutes a day
My psychiatrist suggested this to me years ago and I was skeptical at first, but gave it a try and have noticed that it helps. A full spectrum light mimics outdoor light and can be effective in treating SAD. I have a full spectrum desk lamp at home and turn it on for 30 minutes every morning while I’m working on my laptop (I can almost imagine myself at the beach when it’s on). It works.
Eat as healthy as possible
Part of my anti-S.A.D. therapy is cooking (see a recipe for Happy Stew below), especially foods known to have a positive effect on mood. I try to take care in the selection and preparation of foods, so that my enjoyment begins before I ever sit down to eat. As much as possible, I choose whole foods over processed and packaged. Colorful over beige. Local and organic, whenever possible.
It feels so natural to me to eat more fatty, heavy foods when the weather turns gloomy and cold, and I find myself snacking more often, too. But I noticed the link between what I eat and how I feel. The more healthy (or “clean” as it is trendy to call it, though I do not like this expression) I eat, the more I’m feeding my body well, the better I feel, both mentally and physically. I still indulge from time to time in comfort foods, more often as during the other seasons to be frank but I prefer to make my own, home made versions for everything—from chips to chocolate. It helps to give into your cravings yet stay away from processed food as much as possible.
Write every morning.
Have you ever heard of morning pages? I remember learning about it when I was doing my health and nutrition course, but never gave it a try until now. I tend to over-share, over-think, over-complain but I feel bad whenever I crush someone with an avalanche of my problems (which usually seem way smaller when said out loud), so I tried to write it out. Almost every morning now, after doing my meditation, while still in bed I reach for a journal and just write about whatever comes from my heart. Sometimes it’s bitter, other times it’s interesting facts I randomly remember. It’s all okay and these pages lead me to wonderful a-ha moments.
Move your body.
I try to get out for a walk during the daylight hours to soak up some Vitamin D, but I struggle with this the most. Which is very interesting for me, because in the rest of the year I spend majority of my time outside (planting trees, going on hikes, etc) yet there’s this gap around the holidays when there’s no work and it’s just almost impossible to get my body out of the house. I mean literally, I feel bad getting out in the cold for some reason. I blame it on my Ayurvedic constitution, which is Pitta, the fire element and it doesn’t like cold. (I often feel like a diesel train—hard to warm it up but once it is going it can run all day.) Physical activity increases your endorphin level, which can help you to feel happier. So even though my walk might be short and quick during winter, I love to open my window and get some fresh air in and do yoga in front of the fireplace, where it’s nice and warm and the cold can’t make my bones freeze.
Take a Vitamin D supplement daily.
We tend to be deficient in this important vitamin during the winter months when we spend less time in the sun. Taking it daily can help with some of the symptoms I mentioned above.
Listen to music.
I made a playlist with happy, cheerful songs which I listen to every morning while I’m getting ready, but this playlist is usually on all day during winter months. I figured I need more music, more dance in my life this time. I don’t even care if someone sees me by now, I dance to some tunes while I’m brushing my teeth, while cooking or vacuuming the floor. It makes everything more fun.
Curl up with a book and a cup of tea.
I always thought I was a big reader, but later I changed my definition to a winter reader. I read books in the summer time too, but way more during winter. I love to cozy up under a nice, warm blanket with a cup of tea or hot cocoa and get lost in the fantasies of other authors.
Drink plenty of water.
This is the most underutilized non-drug antidepressant available. Drinking water is so important in maintaining consistent energy and mood levels. In the winter months, when the temperature drops, it’s easy to forget the importance of water. And drinking coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages for an artificial energy boost can also increase your loss of body water. Try to get up your water intake to at least eight glasses of water per day.
Reaching out to family and/or friends on the harder days.
As someone who is highly independent, I love to solve my problems and get through my hardships alone. Yet, I had to admit during the years that having a support system is crucial. I find that calling or texting a friend can improve my mood significantly. Even if it feels hard, I try to avoid complaining because it gets me into a downward negative spiral of emotions and I tend to feel worse and ruminate on past things, so I rather let my friends know that I feel the winter blues heavy on my shoulders and I just need some warm, friendly support and share some encouraging words between each other. Often supporting someone else is even more helpful, then just focusing on our own needs. We are all in this together, so chances are the other person might be suffering from the same SAD.
At the same time, we should know that S.A.D. is temporary. It will not last forever. And by noticing what we are feeling, recognizing our needs, and responding as best we can, we will ease this passage.
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Photo: Nachelle Nocom via Unsplash