Feel well: 5 tips to maintain a better mood throughout the SAD season
Depending on where you live, at this time of year the days can be very short. But have you ever noticed that as the days get darker, your mood also changes? If so, you could be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a mood condition similar to depression which is triggered by a lack of sunlight during the colder months.
SAD is characterized by a number of symptoms, some of which include low self-esteem, loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy, appetite and weight changes, fatigue, and feelings of hopelessness and despair, among others.
If you’re feeling any of these symptoms, know that you’re not alone. SAD affects 1-2% of people, with up to 20% experiencing a milder form of seasonal depression. Also know that, like other types of depression, SAD is treatable, and you can and will get better.
For moderate to severe cases, it’s important to see your doctor, however if your symptoms are mild, there are many self-help tactics that you can try, which can also be used alongside prescribed treatments for more severe cases.
1. Let the sun shine in
Even if you live in a place where sunshine is scarce, try to let in as much light as possible. Make sure to open all curtains and blinds during the day and cut back any shrubbery that’s blocking light from coming into your home. You could also try rearranging your furniture to make it easier to sit by a window. Some people find painting their walls lighter colours and replacing bulbs with full-spectrum lights can also help alleviate symptoms.
2. Get regular exercise
Regular exercise can boost feel-good brain chemicals such as serotonin and endorphins, help relieve stress and anxiety, and improve your sleep – all of which will have a positive affect on SAD symptoms! Ideally, aim for around 30-60 minutes of activity a day and pick a type of exercise that you enjoy. Try to keep your exercise regime going throughout the year, as it may help stave off SAD symptoms before they even start next year.
3. Eat a well-balanced diet
Eating well-balanced meals with plenty of fruit and vegetables is a great way to increase your energy and stabilize your mood. SAD may make you crave sugary foods and refined carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta. Try swapping these for wholegrain foods like oats and brown rice, as well as fruit such as bananas, which can boost your serotonin levels without the subsequent sugar crash. Other foods to look out for include those rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as oily fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds, which may also have mood-boosting properties.
4. Reach out to friends and family
If you’re experiencing SAD symptoms, you may feel like shutting yourself off from the world. However, try reaching out to friends and family members even if you don’t feel like socializing. They will be able to support you and help you feel less lonely. If you’ve drifted apart from people, try getting back in touch or finding new friends by joining a SAD support group or starting a new hobby.
5. See a doctor
If your symptoms are moderate to severe, or if you find that self-help tactics aren’t working, it’s important to see your doctor. They will be able to give you a formal diagnosis and a treatment plan.
Something they may suggest is light therapy. This involves sitting in front of a daylight-mimicking device called a light box every morning for around 20 minutes. Other treatments they may suggest are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which is a talking therapy designed to curb negative thoughts, attitudes, and behaviours, or they may prescribe an antidepressant.
When you’re experiencing depression, you may be feeling desperate and that your symptoms are permanent. However, with the help of medical professionals and self-help tactics, you have the power to overcome Seasonal Affective Disorder and manage it for winters to come.