What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Seattle was recently named the gloomiest city in the nation. With 226 cloudy days a year, it’s not hard to see why. The dark winter days can change how you feel, a common condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It often affects people starting in January, after the holiday festivities are over.
Signs and symptoms of SAD may include:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Having low energy
- Having problems with sleeping
- Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
The following strategies will help you cope with the winter blues! Keep reading for comprehensive suggestions. I spend a lot of time doing online research, and I’m happy to provide affiliate links (ads) to some trusted Amazon products that I hand-selected, for your convenience. (And
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Get a Happy Light
No, really! These SAD lamp treatments are surprisingly helpful for a lot of people. Happy Lights are safe, using UV-free natural-spectrum light (5,000 – 10,000 Lux). Basically, it emulates a bright, sunny day. Simply turn it on for an half hour in the morning while you’re getting ready, to help regulate your body’s circadian rhythm.
In addition to helping your body shift into daytime mode, happy lights can improve your mood and focus, and combat sleep issues. I recommend the following Happy Lights, depending on your price range. They also make great gifts!
Get Up and Get Moving
Studies show that taking a walk helps you feel more alert, energetic, and confident. It improves enthusiasm, increases relaxation, and decreases nervousness at work.
If possible, take the “nature pill” remedy, which is a 20-minute walk outside. This lowers stress hormone levels. Why not bundle up or grab your rain gear and enjoy a stroll down the nearest beach, park, marina dock, or forest trails? Getting some fresh air will help you focus and organize your thoughts while burning some holiday calories.
Take advantage of any sunshine you can get, even on brisk days. And consider joining a gym, because research shows that people can manage or avoid SAD with 30 to 60 minutes of exercise. Your body releases endorphins, or natural feel-good chemicals, while you are active. So don’t let the weather stop you from being healthy. Speaking of which…
Take Vitamin D Supplements
If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you’re most likely not getting enough Vitamin D in the winter months. In addition to helping Calcium build strong bones, Vitamin D helps regulate the immune system and the neuromuscular system. Vitamin D also plays major roles in the life cycle of human cells.
Your body makes Vitamin D by itself, after skin is exposed to sunlight—which can be hard to come by in the rainy season. People who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) often swear by Vitamin D. They believe can help with mood swings and depression, too.
There are many forms and brands available, and your pharmacist may recommend a product containing the active form Vitamin D3.
Get Away for a Sunny Vacation
Many people take summer vacations to some place warm and sunny. But summers in western Washington are beautiful and relatively dry, anyway. That’s why chasing the sun rays in January is the perfect way to beat the winter blues. For people affected by SAD, the key is to look for sunshine, not necessarily warmth.
If Phoenix, Las Vegas, or Southern California aren’t within your reach, you’re still in luck. Sequim and Shelton, WA are on the eastern edge of the Olympic rain shadow and typically get more sun. And if you go a bit further to the windy town of Ellensburg, then south to Yakima, then south to Goldendale, you’re likely to find more sunny days. Many places east of the Cascades offer Seattleites (west-siders, or “wet-siders”) relief from the gloomy weather. You might also check out Leavenworth, or even Klamath County in southern Oregon.
Cure Boredom with Board Games
Puzzles, playing cards and board games are often overlooked, but they make for perfect winter activities. The trick is to create an intentional space for your family and friends to engage one another. Try an experiment with your family: Scatter a puzzle on the dining room table, place a game of Checkers or Connect 4 by the fireplace, and suggest a game of Pictionary before bed. Games get played when they aren’t stored in a closet.
Maybe the grown-ups would enjoy strategy games like Risk, Axis & Allies, or Settlers of Catan. Card games like Spoons can get hilarious, if not violent. Rather than play Solitaire alone, call up some friends to play What Do You Meme? or Exploding Kittens at a nearby coffee shop. The point is to take advantage of the indoor season to bond with your loved ones, and spark laughter—the best medicine.
Practice Mindfulness & Deep Breathing
While yoga, meditation and other practices aren’t for everyone, you can’t argue with the benefits of taking a moment to calm down and breathe deeply. Whether it helps you reduce anxiety, stress, or confusion, everyone can benefit from relaxation techniques.
Headspace is a popular mobile app that offers guided meditation techniques. The free trial version is limited, but it’s a great way to find out whether you would benefit from it. But take a few moments every day to become more aware of your surroundings, close your eyes, and take some deep breaths. If anything, you’ll be more relaxed and clear-headed.
Recognize More Serious Symptoms
If you find yourself struggling to function, suffering from major stress, or fighting bigger health concerns, don’t wait to talk with your doctor or therapist. You may need medical treatment, especially if you are genetically predisposed to depression. Or, the symptoms could be caused be a different medical problem. You’re not alone! Don’t be afraid of the social stigma attached to depression. because many of your friends, colleagues and neighbors also suffer from it.
Be Proactive With Self-Care
When my family moved to Kitsap County from sunny Arizona years ago, people warned us about the winter blues. If you work indoors, you can go days without seeing any sunshine! And you don’t always realize that mood swings or depression can be caused by continuous gray weather.
Your mental health is important, so it’s worth trying these techniques during winter to improve your well-being. I hope these recommendations will help you and your family!
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