As the leaves begin to fall, and the season begins to change, we too undergo transformation, both mind and body. Our bodies must adapt to changing temperatures, air pressures, and daily routines, while our minds must adjust to the early darkness, changing moods, and alternating schedules for eating, sleeping, exercising, socializing and working.
When the seasons change, so do we.
For some of us, this can be taxing, draining our energy and positive mood, and making it hard to function. For instance, roughly 10 to 20 percent of Americans report feeling tired or sad when the sunlight dwindles and the seasons begin to change.
While many still function through the chilly weather and cloudy dark skies, even if feeling a bit melancholy, for others, winter brings a clinical form of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a category of depression that emerges as a result of changing seasons and the impact on our circadian rhythms; internal physiological processes that influence our sleep, eating, digestion, and body temperature. SAD commonly starts in the fall, and increases during winter months, but can also be experienced during the spring to summer transition.
Research finds that SAD creates a biochemical imbalance, causing people to experience a significant dip in serotonin levels, the neurotransmitter responsible for mood, appetite, sleep, and libido. In fact, studies have shown that women may be four times more susceptible to SAD compared to men.
Truth is, even if you don’t suffer from full-blown seasonal depression, you may feel less social, less happy, and more down-in-the-dumps come winter. This change of pace and emotional state is important to acknowledge as it can affect relationships, work productivity, and basic functioning.
Fortunately, there are ticks that can help you boost your mood, and help you cope with SAD, or even lesser energy dips this winter. Here are some strategies:
1. Soak up the morning sunshine.
When the seasons begin to change, the sun peaks out briefly in the morning. If you’re struggling with SAD, or feeling generally sluggish, it is important to seize that little time in the sun. Whether that’s a cup of coffee on the front stoop, an early dog walk, or even a brisk morning jog, every minute in the sun counts towards rebuilding your energy and happiness supply. Seize the sunlight when you can!
2. Don’t stop being you!
As the seasons change, it’s easy to start changing yourself. Dark, gloomy days seem perfect for skipping work, sleeping in, and not doing much of anything. Yet, it’s actually important that you maintain your normal routine as the seasons flux. Routine helps to keep our mind and body on track, maintaining our internal rhythms that guide optimal functioning. If you regularly engage in outdoor exercise and hobbies, don’t stop. Figure out ways to play indoors, or make it a goal to find a winter hobby that helps you stay healthy and active over the winter months.
3. Choose to fuel wisely.
Hot chocolate, warm pie, mashed potatoes… yum! Many people crave sweet, starchy foods in the wintertime because they provide a temporary energy boost, and make us feel warm and full. Yet, contrary to intent, these yummy treats usually leave us feeling more sluggish, more weighed down than we started. Instead, it’s important to focus on eating complete meals, with good sources of nutrients, protein, and fiber. Research finds that high sugar intake correlates with higher rates of depression, and decreased ability to cope with stressors. So, eating healthy not only promotes a healthy body, but also a healthy mind. Remember: food is a body’s source of fuel (energy!) so when energy is lacking, like during the winter, healthy foods can re-fuel our body with the energy needed to perform.
4. Find something that relaxes you.
Yoga is one of the best ways to decompress and lift the spirit. Research finds that practicing yoga can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression through deep breathing and muscle tension relaxation. Reading and drawing are also proven methods that promote relaxation, as they can help you refocus, re-center, and find calm. It is important to find a personal method of relaxation that can help you re-set your system.
5. Seek help.
Sometimes it’s helpful to gain an outside perspective when the going gets tough. Cognitive behavioral therapy, an active form of therapy, can help with SAD by providing behavioral skills that aid coping and reduction of symptoms. Additionally, light therapy can help alleviate symptoms of SAD, as demonstrated by numerous clinical studies, by using artificial light to maintain consistency internally with our circadian rhythms. Don’t hibernate this winter! Instead, seek help to address SAD and cope beyond, so that you don’t waste time feeling lethargic and sluggish. Winter should be a happy time of year, too!
The good thing is, there are solutions that can help you get to feeling better again! While you can’t stop winter from coming, you can decide and control how it impacts you. Stay prepared, and keep aware that the changing temperatures may also blow in changes in how you think, feel, and perform. Recognizing SAD is the first step, and implementing these strategies can help you take the second step: achieving a healthy, positive direction no matter the season.
Check out the leaves today. Are they falling? Have you noticed a dip in your own energy or attention? If so, what can you do about it?
Monitor your sleep. Have you maintained a consistent schedule?
Take a sun break. Before it’s too late, soak up some rays. Take lunch outside, or schedule a walking client meeting. It will boost your energy in the present, and may help down the road as well!