When you look outside this week, you are sure to notice the bright yellow, orange, and red leaves illuminating the trees around our beautiful city. The transition of the leaves symbolizes the transition to winter, which brings it’s own share of ups and downs. Winter means snowflakes, Christmas, skiing, ice fishing, and so much more, but for some of us, winter will bring a much different struggle. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is estimated to affect over 10 million Americans, and it’s said that the farther north you live, the more likely it is to affect you.¹ Considering we live in the northernmost state of the lower 48, I have a suspicion that some of you might relate when I say, I feel a little more down than usual in the winter.
For me, my SAD brings along symptoms like lower energy, sadness, fatigue, low motivation, and poor appetite. For others, it can look like hypersomnia, oversleeping, weight gain, difficulty concentrating, irritability, isolation and anxiety. The cause of SAD is not known, but it might have something to do with complications caused by the lack of sunlight during the winter months.¹ Becoming aware of the possible diagnosis of SAD in myself has helped me think more in depth about what I’m going to do this winter to take care of myself. My body is already starting to feel more drained than usual, and my mood just a little more down. Luckily, as always, there is hope. It’s hard to see when depression seems consuming, but we’ve made it through winter before, and we’ll make it through again.
I think something that will help me this winter is making sure I have events and activities to look forward to. I always look forward to Christmas. I love all the decorations and all the family time, but right after Christmas is the time when things start to get worse for me. It seems like the next thing my subconscious gets excited for is when the snow starts to melt. Instead of being miserable for those months in between, this year I’m going to challenge myself to fill that time with productive, fulfilling activities, instead of isolation and depression.
I’m not sure exactly what that will look like, but I can brainstorm a little with you right now. As for filling my time with productive, fulfilling activities, it’s difficult because most things I like to do involve being outside, but being outside in the cold is miserable for me. I love hiking and walking on pretty trails and near waterfalls, so maybe I’ll push myself to still do that, even in the cold. I’ve loved snowboarding since freshman year, so I’m going to try to do a lot more of that this winter. I think I would enjoy going to open mics at different locations around the city, as I love music. I’m going to try to paint and draw more in my down time, instead of sleeping. I could attend more meetings, as I always leave them feeling better than I came. Spending time with people I love will help a lot, too, especially if I replace the time I spend isolating with time with my family or close friends.
Maintaining physical health is very important as well. Continuing to get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week will be a must; by the way, did you know that regular exercise can be as effective as depression medication?² Another essential is treating my body right by not eating processed foods and incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables into my regular diet.
There are many things you can do to help reverse the effects that lack of sunlight has on our bodies, as well. Vitamin D deficiency is common, especially in people living at higher latitudes or who get little sun exposure. Doctors recommend that taking a Vitamin D supplement could help reduce health problems that come along with living in a state with little sunlight, including SAD. Another highly recommended treatment and prevention strategy is use of a light therapy lamp or “happy lamp”. Light therapy lamps have been linked to a decrease in depression in 85% of cases.³
It is estimated that 1 in 10 Minnesotans experience seasonal affective disorder. Remember that although you may not be able to cure it completely, there are always things you can do to reduce symptoms and improve your well-being. You can take my ideas or leave them, I just hope that something I’ve said has sparked a thought that will help you this winter. Surround yourself with people who love you, and find happiness in the little things. Thank you for reading!
[¹] Seasonal Affective Disorder
[²] Prescribing Exercise to Treat Depression
[³] Seasonal Affective Disorder Treatment: Choosing a Light Therapy Box