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How to Prevent and Treat Winter Sadness (Seasonal Affective Disorder)
It's that time of year again.. chilly, dark mornings and nights spent around a warming fire. While some people thrive amidst the cuddles, hot chocolate and rainy skies, it is totally the opposite for others - about 0.5% to 3% of individuals in the general population succumb to a clinical condition called seasonal depression, often called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Seasonal depression occurs at the same time each year, usually when autumn starts. The depression amplifies in the winter before winding down in spring. Some people may get a mild version of SAD known as the “winter blues” which is not as crippling as SAD and is not considered a clinical condition to the degree that SAD is.
In contrast to the winter blues, SAD can affect your daily life immensely. For some, SAD can be life threatening if it gets to the point of suicide. SAD is a type of depression, rather than a separate disorder, so people who have seasonal affective disorder may display similar symptoms to depression, including:
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- Food cravings and weight gain or loss of appetite
- Extreme fatigue and lack of energy
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Inability to concentrate
- Irritability, moodiness and tearfulness
- Loss of interest in usual activities or purposefully avoiding people
- Oversleeping or insomnia
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Why people get seasonal affective disorder
While researchers are not 100% certain of all the ins and outs of seasonal affective disorder, they do know that it's a depression that gets triggered by a change in seasons. There are various reasons why one might be prone to SAD, but it essentially always boils down to the lack of sunlight.
Biological clocks (circadian rhythm) are directly affected by light. When someone has less exposure to sunlight, such as in the winter, their biological clock shifts. This internal clock regulates mood, hunger, sleep and hormones. When the clock changes, people may have trouble regulating their moods and other aspects of their daily lives.
Another important influence on mood is brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. People who suffer from depression usually have less activity of a specific neurotransmitter called serotonin, commonly known as the happy chemical, which contributes to feelings of happiness. People who suffer from SAD often already have less serotonin activity, and since sunlight helps regulate serotonin, the lack of sun in winter makes the situation worse.
Serotonin also gets a boost from Vitamin D. This important vitamin is produced in your skin when your skin is exposed to sunshine. Since sunlight helps us produce Vitamin D, less sun in the winter can lead to a Vitamin D deficiency, which decreases serotonin activity, which then affects the mood.
Lastly, melatonin is another brain chemical which could be playing a role in seasonal affective disorder. Melatonin affects sleep patterns. Darkness prompts the production of melatonin while light causes that production to stop. The lack of sunlight may stimulate an overproduction of melatonin which makes people feel sluggish and sleepy during the winter, contributing to feelings of seasonal affective disorder
Who is at risk of getting seasonal affective disorder
Seasonal affective disorder tends to start in young adulthood and affects women more than men. According to statistics, about 75% of people who get SAD are women. You’re also at higher risk if you:
- Have a mood disorder such as major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder
- Have or have relatives with mental health conditions such as schizophrenia
- Live at high latitudes, farther north of the equator
- Live in cloudy regions
- Suffer from anxiety
In addition to all the above factors making one prone to SAD, everybody is also currently coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made many people feel stressed and isolated. For some, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a traumatic period, which may then leave them vulnerable to experiencing seasonal affective disorder.
Ways to prevent and treat seasonal affective disorder
While symptoms of seasonal affective disorder will generally improve on their own with the change of season, symptoms can improve more quickly with treatment, including:
- Phototherapy: Bright light therapy, using a special lamp, is used to treat SAD.
- Natural antidepressants: Many people respond positively to natural antidepressants, either alone or with light therapy. MindSoothe Capsules is a 100% herbal remedy that balances serotonin levels and relieves depression and anxiety. The upside is that MindSoothe doesn't leave you with unwanted side effects like many people experience with prescription antidepressants.
- Spend time outdoors: Getting more sunlight can help improve symptoms of seasonal affective disorder that is caused due to lack of sunlight. Try to get out during the day as much as possible, even if it's only for 10 minutes. It's also important to ensure sufficient light enters your home or working space by keeping curtains open during the day.
- Vitamin D supplements: A Vitamin D supplement can help improve symptoms by addressing the Vitamin D deficiency that can cause SAD. Those with SAD have been found to produce less Vitamin D. Start taking Vitamin D supplements at least a month or two before autumn begins to prevent SAD from settling in as the weather changes.
- Aromatherapy: Essential oils have showed positive results in assisting those who struggle with SAD. The essential oils work by influencing the area of the brain responsible for mood as well as biological clock. Recommended essential oils for SAD include Bergamot, Lemon, Ylang-Ylang, Clary Sage and Geranium.
- Exercise: As it does with other forms of depression, exercise can help alleviate seasonal affective disorder, too. Maintaining your level of exercise and a healthy balanced diet are great ways to elevate your mood and energy levels throughout the winter months.
PS: For the times where one feels anxiety and panic, PureCalm herbal drops can quickly reduce symptoms of anxiety, stress and panic.