What is the first thought you have when day lights savings comes around? If it is dread of the dark and shorter evenings or winter blues, you are not alone. You might be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder as it is quite common, with between 6-10 % of the population being affected and an additional 10-20% reporting a mild SAD. It is most common in northern states than southern states, for example in a prevalence study approximately 10% of individuals in New Hampshire reported SAD symptoms as compared to less than 2% in Florida.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD for short? SAD is a major depressive episode that happens in the Fall and Winter and tends to resolve in the Spring and Summer. It is believed to be caused by the changes in light which in turn impact your circadian rhythm and melatonin production. Most common symptoms are losing interest in things you typically enjoy, fatigue, isolating yourself, sadness, irritability, increased craving of starchy food and sweet food with subsequent weight gain, difficulty concentrating and sleeping more than usual.
These are more than just the winter blues, but they are not inevitable. There are things you can consciously do to prevent SAD or improve your mood.
1. Don’t isolate. We are social creatures and need to stay connected. Loneliness hurts. Spend time with people that make you laugh or support you. Schedule play dates for your children and for yourself. Parents need playdates as much as their kids.
2. Get hugs. It has been documented that 20 second hugs release endorphins, the happy neurotransmitters in our brain. If you can’t get a hug, wrap your arms around yourself and hug yourself. Skin contact helps.
3. Stay active. Winter months are cold and many have the tendency to hibernate. Fight that urge and force yourself to get out. Schedule things so that you feel an obligation to attend them.
4. Get sun. Our bodies and brains need Vitamin D. Try to get at least 20 minutes of sun exposure. Sit by a window, take a 20 minute walk around your neighborhood, or get a sun lamp (daily light therapy has been shown to be effective).
5. Consult with a medical practitioner about whether you are Vitamin D deficient and whether taking a supplement might help.