This post is a part of Nicole Carman’s mental health-related holiday post series, “Taking Care of your Mental Health during the Holiday Season.” It was written and contributed to this post series by Aliyah Brody, who is a blogger I have gotten to know on Twitter.
To see the post line-up for the previous and remaining posts in this series, please visit this page on Nicole’s blog, Navigating Darkness. If you enjoy this post, please comment and consider sharing it on social media!
It’s late fall in the Northern hemisphere & winter is fast approaching. Holiday jingles play in the shops & malls & pretty, little lights sparkle along the streets & avenues. ‘Tis the season to be jolly, the song goes but for more than 10 million North Americans, it’s the season for SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. And women, with the hormonal fluctuations that accompany their menstrual cycles, are 4 more times likely to suffer than men.
(Source: Psychology Today – Seasonal Affective Disorder)
For those of us with SAD, suffer, we do. Signs and symptoms range from sleeping and eating too much (especially high carbs) and feeling depressed most of the day, most days of the week, to trouble concentrating. We can feel a serious lack of energy and virtually no interest in anything that previously brought enjoyment. For too many, social isolation follows in the wake of these waves of misery, compounding the effects. Hibernating until spring when the days are brighter and long on sunshine seems like a very attractive option.
So, what’s a girl or guy to do?
The standard treatments of traditional medicine are psychotherapy or talk therapy and medications. More recently, phototherapy, or light therapy with full-spectrum lights or lightboxes, is being recommended as an additional or alternative treatment but it’s not for everyone. Some individuals don’t respond at all and, worse, it can be dangerous for those with Bipolar Disorder, triggering episodes of depression or mania.
While professional, medical treatment should always be the first step in a plan to manage SAD, there IS more that you can do to alleviate the symptoms and make the winter months bearable without sleeping through them (pun intended).
Got SAD? Get going with these Action Steps
Whether you use a lightbox for phototherapy or not, make sure you’re indoor environment is very well lit. Overhead lighting is great for overall brightness and lamps closer to eye level when working, reading or enjoying screen time are ideal to lessen shadows.
While environmental friendliness is important, during evenings, be your own best friend first and if the slightly elevated cost isn’t a consideration, ensure that you have lights on throughout all the rooms of your home, using energy-efficient bulbs. During the day, spend as much time as you can next to a window, preferably facing it. Which, very nicely, brings us to the next remedy.
Get out and get moving
Nothing beats sunlight. And the best place for the most exposure is, of course, outdoors. If you can, bundle up and go for a walk. Or drive to a coffee shop or your local library then go in and linger for a while and overcome your social isolation at the same time by spending near others, maybe even sharing a smile or kind word.
If the weather’s too inclement and you’re staying put indoors, boost your heart rate, circulation and endorphins with everything from lighter and gentler activities like yoga to more vigorous dancing in place to your favorite, upbeat music.
If activities you used to enjoy no longer pique your interest, discover a new one. Learning a new sport or skill is a wonderful distraction and combats SAD by lighting up new neuronal pathways in your brain, stimulating the release of feel-good neurotransmitters & hormones.
Knitting, painting, crafting, model building, learning history or a new language are great options to explore. Not to your liking? Solve puzzles, learn a musical instrument or maybe write a novel.
Losing yourself in a great book or activity is definitely stimulating for your mind but did you know you can lessen SAD by awakening your physical senses, too?
Most of us are predominantly visual so museum visits, virtual vacations via YouTube videos or colorful and exotic photography books, borrowed during that library visit when you got out of the house and got moving, are ideal.
Scented candles, essential oils or the aroma of something delicious baking excite our olfactory receptors while music can invigorate or relax us, all while lifting our spirit. And what could be cozier and more soothing than cuddling with a soft blanket, massaging moisturizer or oil into our winter-dry skin, dry brushing to stimulate our lymphatic system or snuggling with our pet?
And finally, how great is it that we can boost our health while stimulating our taste buds, too? From simply enjoying the sweetness or tang of a new fruit to preparing an exotic recipe with vitamin-packed leafy greens and enticing spices, the options for nourishing our physical and mental health are virtually limitless.
You may have SAD but SAD doesn’t have to have you.