How to Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder

Combatting Seasonal Affective Disorder (Naturally!) Before It Begins

Since June 22nd, the days have been getting progressively shorter and daily sunlight will continue to diminish until the winter solstice on December 21st. Did you know that on the shortest day of the year, Rochester only receives eight hours and fifty-nine minutes of sunlight? And let’s face it, there’s a high chance the sun will be veiled beneath clouds through majority of the fall and winter months, making for long, cold, dark days. It’s no wonder that the rate of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is higher than average in the state of New York.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD is a type of depression related to the changes in the seasons. Depression can be range from mild (“winter blues”) to severe (full-blown Seasonal Affective Disorder”). While the exact cause of SAD is unknown, it is believed that reduced exposure to sunlight causes a drop in serotonin, leading to feelings of depression. The change in the seasons can also disrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythms and melatonin levels, both which affect mood.

If you experience a noticeable shift in mood during the darker months, now is a good time to make the adjustments necessary to balance your mood. Luckily, there are inexpensive, natural ways to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Combat SAD by taking a Vitamin D Supplement

More and more studies are telling us the same thing: people with low levels of vitamin D are more susceptible to symptoms of depression. Why? Vitamin D activates genes that release dopamine and serotonin, mood-boosting neurotransmitters. Since a major source of vitamin D is sunlight, it makes sense that vitamin D levels drop during the winter months. The fix is simple: taking a daily Vitamin D supplement will help you keep your Vitamin D levels steady, bolstering your mood and your immune system, muscle function, and cardiovascular system.

Light Therapy

Light therapy has been shown to be at least as effective as an antidepressant in combating SAD. Even taking a short walk on a cloudy day has mood-boosting benefits. You can also trick your mind into believing it’s getting adequate sunlight with a light box, a device that emits a higher intensity of light than the average light bulb. Light therapy entails sitting close to a light box for at least 30 minutes a day, usually first thing in the morning. The bright light activates the part of the brain that regulates circadian rhythms.

Light boxes aren’t for everyone: for some, intense light can trigger mania, and those with certain eye diseases should avoid light therapy. Light boxes aren’t regulated by the FDA, so it behooves consumes to consult a trusted physician or mental health provider before selecting one.

Take Advantage of Other Mood-Boosting Activities

We northerners tend to shut ourselves inside during the winter months. It’s easy to take a walk or a bike ride when the weather is nice; when it’s cold and dark, one might even lack the motivation to drive to the gym. Now is not the time to back away from physical activity. Exercise is a great way to increase energy and mood-boosting hormones. There are plenty of winter activities to try: snowshoeing, cross-country or downhill skiing, ice skating, and nature walks are all wonderful ways to get outside and to get exercise. Embrace the season!

Other mood-boosting activities include: playing happy music, socializing with good friends, eating healthfully, spending time with your pet, participating in a creative activity like playing an instrument or painting, and meditating.

If you make a concerted effort to implement these lifestyle changes and to consistently practice mood-boosting activities, the fact that it gets dark at 5pm might not affect you as much as it has in the past. Don’t let SAD steal your joy. Take back the dark days by making your own light!