6 Important Winter Tips For Seasonal Affective Disorder Sufferers

woman standing in front of clear glass window
Toa Heftiba / Unsplash

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects up to 10 million Americans and, according to some estimates, as many as 10 to 20 percent more may suffer from a milder form of the disorder. Those who suffer from SAD often develop this type of depression as fall heads into winter, and many sufferers report marked fatigue and moodiness that interferes with activities of daily living.

Symptoms of SAD include feeling depressed the majority of each day, losing interest in previously joyful activities, feelings of worthlessness, and changes in mood, behavior, and weight. People may experience a variance of these symptoms throughout the winter months. If you think you’re dealing with SAD, try a few tips to see if you can ease your symptoms a bit and have a better winter.

1. Check-In With Your Diet

Evolutionarily-speaking, humans are hard-wired to consume more calories during the winter months. In primitive times, we relied on the extra fat that came with increased consumption to survive harsh glacial winters. But now that we no longer rely on caves and fire for heat, we need to remain more conscientious about our food choices.

The holidays, with all their scrumptious treats, make it hard to say no. But overdoing it at the family Christmas buffet can mean more than buying a bigger pair of pants. Overindulging in high-fat foods can make us sluggish, as the body works harder to digest. Eating too many sugary treats can spike your blood sugar and give you a rush, but then leads to a crash and further cravings.

While it’s okay to enjoy your favorite holiday treats, you’ll want to do so in moderation. Make an effort to incorporate more low-calorie lean proteins and whole grains into that brown bag you take with you to the office and choose to snack on veggies and fruit during the work or school week. This will help your body get the nutrients it needs to perform at its best while helping to offset that second helping of sweet potato pie!

2. Get Those Workouts In

We also have a tendency to move less as temperatures drop — understandably! However, not only can this lead to weight gain, but it can cause depression symptoms to increase. Numerous studies have linked physical exercise with a lower risk of depression due to the way exercise releases endorphins, the feel-good chemicals in our bodies. And the endorphin high lasts much longer than your jog or your spin class. The peak in endorphins continues for hours after you complete your workout.

So if you feel a bit sluggish, consider putting that nap on hold and getting out there for a jog! If you find the cold to be truly bothersome, there are also tons of workouts you can perform indoors when the weather is frightful. Try a new dance class, hit the local pool for some resistance training, or buy a set of weights for your own living room fitness class! You’ll not only burn calories, you’ll also help stave off sadness.

3. Avoid Overextending Your Holiday Budget

It’s not just poor diet and exercise that can bring people down during the chilly months. Many of us max out our credit cards in an attempt to keep up with the Joneses when it comes to gift-giving. This can lead to stress and worsened depression and anxiety symptoms as we anxiously ponder how on earth we’ll pay all our bills.

Instead, be honest about your budget with your friends and loved ones. Suggest a name-exchange in place of having everyone in your circle come up with a gift for everyone else on the list. That way, you can put time and thought into buying one meaningful gift instead of many.

The holidays are also a perfect time to teach children about wants versus needs. Give them suggestions within your price range, and ask them to select one special gift they would like the most. Staying within budget won’t just decrease stress over the holiday season, but will help you welcome the new year without a mountain of debt.

4. Give Yourself A Night Off

Some people don’t just overextend themselves financially — they also stretch their time so thin they barely have time to breathe. This can lead to exhaustion, stress and, yes, feelings of depression. While it’s natural to experience some FOMO during the holidays, remember you don’t need to accept every invitation extended to you.

If you have a large family with tons of relatives, see if you can plan one large holiday gathering instead of several smaller parties. Remember, too, no matter how large your family, you are only one person. If you feel the burnout, it’s okay to take a quiet evening at home instead of going to another white elephant gathering.

5. Skip The Third Cocktail

Alcohol and the holiday months seem to go together as naturally as Thanksgiving and turkey. And while the occasional glass of wine can be healthy, consuming alcohol too heavily can strike your physical health and your mental well-being.

Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it inhibits the actions of your central nervous system. This is why a drink or two tends to enhance relaxation. However, when you overindulge too often, depression of the central nervous system becomes permanent, leading to a mental feeling of depression. Not only does this sour your holiday cheer, but can also create a vicious cycle where you use alcohol in an attempt to combat these low feelings, leading to more trouble.

If looking to avoid overindulgence, limit yourself to one alcoholic beverage a day if female, and two for males. But if surviving the holiday office party seems impossible without a cocktail or three, limit your drinking by substituting one non-alcoholic beverage for each alcoholic drink you take. This will help you slow down, and also help you stave off dehydration, which can lead to that dreaded morning-after headache.

6. Spend Time In The Sunshine

Finally, even if you don’t clinically suffer from SAD, lower levels of light during the short winter days can make anyone feel a bit more tired and listless. Whenever you get the chance, get yourself outside into natural daylight. If the weather isn’t too terrible, take a 10-minute walk over your lunch break. Take yourself skiing or build a snowman when you have some daylight hours off. If you’re lucky enough to work near a window, take advantage and let in the sunshine. You’ll benefit from the endorphin-boost that comes from natural light.

Dodging the Winter Blues

Seasonal Affective Disorder can have serious consequences, and it can be tough to try to control. If you feel the winter blues, try taking some of the above steps. If nothing seems to help, by all means, seek the help of a qualified medical professional. While SAD can be serious, treatments are available, and the sooner you seek help, the sooner you can find what works for you. Make this coming cold season both happy and healthy! TC mark

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