BY: SYDNEY MCINNIS
Seasonal affective disorder sucks. The colder months, fall and winter, can be gloomy enough when you live far away from the equator. Adding a crippling serotonin deficiency to the equation seems like a dreadful hurdle to jump, which it can be.
For three to four months of the year, I navigate through the darkness and difficulty of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Thankfully, my experiences with the disorder are a lot less severe than they could be. Some experience SAD so intensely that they have to be doused with antidepressants and even hospitalized during the fall and winter months. I just have to be extra conscious about how much time I’m spending in my bed feeling incredibly useless and the deepest shade of blue.
The actual cause of SAD is under debate, but what we do know is that there’s something in our brains, fuelled by darkness, that is messing with energy and happiness levels. Sleep patterns get messed up and so does your mood, which we can blame on our brains’ serotonin and melatonin levels. According to How Stuff Works, “Melatonin is secreted in the dark, and humans have more of it in their bloodstream during winter than summer. In fact, when scientists administer melatonin to research subjects, their body temperatures decrease and they become drowsy.” As well, “during cold, dark months, your brain doesn’t receive as many happy signals as it does in warmer months,” stated Brenda McMahon, lead researcher at the University of Copenhagen to Huffington Post.
Ideally people with SAD, who often live where it’s dark for most of the day, could hop on a plane and spend the winter somewhere eternally sunny. Unfortunately, depending on money and various engagements, this is not a reality for most people. It’s really important to figure out things that work for you to combat this disorder. Don’t just live with it. Be proactive.
Start your day off with sunlight. Get up early and go outside even if it’s cloudy – the natural light will aid your depression no matter what. Maximize your time spent in the light to get vitamin D, since, according to Vitamin D Council, low levels of vitamin D are linked to depression. If you’re spending most of your time inside, make sure the space that you’re hanging in gets a ton of natural light and that you’ve made it into a sweet sanctuary where you feel relaxed and comfortable.
Don’t let your cravings control you. Indulge yourself in fall and winter cooking and baking, and be conscious that a vitamin D-rich diet will help your mood. Eating shitty food and drowning yourself in carbs will only make you feel heavier and worse. You can research kickass recipes and fill your tummy with seasonal fruits, veggies and whole grains, and according to BMC Medicine, people who eat higher quality diets including fruits, vegetables and whole grains have lower incidence of depression than those who eat more meat and processed foods.
Keep doing the stuff you’d regularly do, or do even more. Of course SAD lowers your motivation to get out and do things, but it also makes you more conscious of what you’re accomplishing. To make sure that fall and winter don’t completely suck, start practicing activities that will make you embrace darkness and coldness. Yoga helps a ton to combat SAD as well. According to Linda Malone, founder of Blu Matter Project, “Alongside a healthy lifestyle and diet, mindfulness practices are strongly correlated with both positive structural and functional changes in the brain,” she said. “The postures improve circulation, the breathing oxygenates the brain and the final posture supports and stabilizes the nervous system (which tempers your stress response).”
Keeping a positive mindset when you’re constantly being kicked down is hard. Aim to find things that distract you and stick to them like glue. If you live in North America, it’s going to be dark for three quarters of the day for multiple months, and even if you don’t have SAD, I’m sure you suffer from the winter blues. It’s inevitable. But if we embrace the cold and the dark, we can find ways to turn this sadness into motivation and beat it.