Do you get SAD during the colder winter months (See what I did there?)? Seasonal affective disorder (also called SAD) is a very real thing and it refers to the change of mood and energy when there’s a seasonal change. It affects some people more than others, and it commonly occurs when the weather transitions from summer to fall to winter. The causes include vitamin D deficiency, and fluctuations in the levels of neurotransmitters and hormones like serotonin and melatonin.
I myself am very sensitive to seasonal affective disorder, and I get quite depressed and lazy during the Fall and Winter. I tend to avoid going out and my productivity level goes down. My friends would tell me that I go in a cave and hibernate when the weather gets cold, and it’s really not that big of an exaggeration. It is one of the major reasons I moved to sunny California from New York City a year and a half ago and that move has played a huge role in improving my level of wellness and happiness. But there are still seasons in the San Francisco Bay Area, although much less dramatic than the east coast, and I still experience some mood and energy fluctuations throughout the year.
While it may be difficult to avoid completely, there are ways manage your seasonal affective disorder so you increase your serotonin level, the feel-good chemical in your brain, and deal with the weather change much better. Here are some methods that have been helpful for me:
Spend time moving, preferably outside.
I know this may seem like the last thing you want to do when the weather is dark and cold, but moving outside, even just going on a fast paced walk, will boost your mood significantly. Of course, if there’s a storm or heavy rain, you can find ways to exercise indoors. However, if you can, I encourage you to spend time outdoors and get as much sun as possible to maximize your serotonin production and vitamin D exposure.
Get plenty of sun during the summer.
Lack of vitamin D contributes greatly to depression and seasonal affective disorder. Depending on where you live and your skin pigmentation, it IS natural to have an ebb and flow of vitamin D levels throughout the year. However, when you receive plenty of sunlight during the summer, you store inactive forms of vitamin D that can be used up during the colder months when you need them. So don’t be afraid of the sun, try to avoid using sunscreen (that’s right!), and spend as much time as you can out in the sun during Spring and Summer. Read more about why I don’t wear sunscreen here.
Invest in a light therapy box.
A light therapy box is a lighting system that mimics sunlight, and by doing that, it has a similar effect on your brain that sunlight does. By using a light therapy box for 30 minutes each day, it can boost your mood and energy when you need it. It has also been known to treat skin conditions, anxiety, and sleep disorders. Here are some great options you can look into at differing price points:
I actually love to go tanning about every other week during the winter when I’m feeling especially down. I feel so much better afterwards with the extra boost of vitamin D, and it helps me feel energized and sleep much better. Of course, the type and quality of the tanning bed matters and makes a difference. I always call ahead to tanning salons to make sure they have the right kind of beds. Here are 2 factors to look for in tanning beds:
- Electronic ballasts, not magnetic ballasts. Magnetic ballast beds have a high pitched sound and are actually dangerous to your health because of its magnetic radiation. Electronic ballasts do not have that risk, and they actually consume much less electricity than the magnetic ones.
- Bulb quality. Make sure the bed has at the natural ratio of UVA to UVB of sunlight, which is 95% percent UVA and 5% UVB. There are newer beds with a 90/10 ratio which is optimal because we produce health-promoting vitamin D from UVB rays.
Go on a tropical vacation.
I know this isn’t feasible for everyone, but traveling to somewhere warmer during the winter is an obvious solution to boost your mood from the lack of sunlight and warmth. Look for some travel deals and packages early on and treat yourself to a nice beach vacation. C and I are actually going to Mexico in a few days for this very reason and we were able to find a super reasonable package deal after some searching. Taking care of yourself is the #1 rule to improving your health. Which leads me to the next topic…
Take care of yourself.
When you are experiencing seasonal affective disorder, it becomes even more difficult to manage the symptoms if you aren’t eating a proper, nutrient-dense diet and getting plenty of sleep. Vitamin D cannot be absorbed without fat, so make sure to include plenty of high quality fat and protein in your diet. Sugar, stress, and lack of sleep deplete the vitamin D levels in your body and also imbalances the level of serotonin in the brain, so your SAD symptoms will increase and worsen if you aren’t taking care of your body with a healthy diet, proper stress management, and plenty of sleep. Make sure to surround yourself physically and mentally with positive people and thoughts.
When you feel depressed and anti-social, going out may be the last thing you want to do (I’m SO guilty of this!), However, retreating from your relationships will only worsen your SAD symptoms and make you feel even more isolated. You’ll feel so much better when you spend time with your family and friends for even just a little bit. The hardest part is getting yourself out the door and putting yourself in a social situation. Once you do so, you’ll find that you are enjoying your time and having fun. Being around positive people will help boost your mood and make your feel even more connected with your loved ones.
Take vitamin D supplements.
While I always encourage getting vitamin D from sunlight, it may not be feasible for everyone. In that case, it can be helpful to turn to vitamin D supplements. However, you should always test your vitamin D levels before supplementing, as too much of it can cause other health problems. Consult with your doctor, and if you do decide to supplement, figure out what other vitamins and minerals you also need to take. Vitamin D works in conjunction with magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin K, and zinc, and it’s important to make sure you don’t throw off the balance between these co-factors by taking too much of one thing.
Do you experience seasonal affective disorder? What are some ways you manage it that you’ve found to be helpful?
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