Things I Do To Help My Seasonal Depression
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) aka winter blues, seasonal depression or whatever you want to call it, is a disorder that affects people who usually have a normal mental health during the majority of the year with the exception to when seasons change or at particular times of the year (usually winter). SAD can affect your mood, sleep, appetite and energy levels, and overall take a toll on your body and every aspect of your life. When winter hits you may feel like an entirely different person. You can feel hopeless, sad, tense, stressed, lose interest in things you usually love. Although this can also affect people in the summer, usually SAD affects those in the fall or winter when the days become shorter (and colder in some cases).
All photography by Stacie Carr
What causes it?
It’s not exactly known what causes seasonal affective disorder but many theories point to the decrease in sunlight during the winter months. This affects our bodies in a few different ways! First by changing our internal clock (circadian rhythms). Our internal clock responds to the changes between light and dark and uses that to regulate our sleep, mood and appetite. When the shorter days come around, this throws us off, leaving us feeling disoriented and not ourselves.
The production of melatonin also changes! When it’s dark, our brain naturally produces melatonin which helps us sleep. When it’s sunny out, this triggers our brain to stop the production of this hormone so we feel awake and alert. With longer hours of darkness, our body may be producing TOO MUCH melatonin which is leaving you with that lack of energy.
Lastly, our production of serotonin is reduced due to the reduced amount of sun we are getting. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate our mood, ultimately leading us to feel depressed and also affect other aspects of our lives like sleep, memory, etc.
I first realized I had SAD when I was around 18-19 years old. I was living away from home, going through Bulimia but something felt more off, besides the fact that I was shoving my fingers down my throat every meal. I was feeling sad. When the winter months would come around I was a nightmare. I would find myself sleeping in till 11am-12pm, to the point where I was almost flunking my morning classes at uni. I just couldn’t find the motivation to get out of bed, even when I knew I had to! It was pretty weird for me as I have always been a lover of winter, especially winter sports like skiing, snowboarding and watching hockey! Hell, I grew up in a skating rink and in a town where Hockey is life. It just didn’t make sense that I could have SAD. I am literally that girl who is NEVER cold and if I am, it’s probably because I am hungry. This feeling stayed as my University years went on.
I eventually ended up moving to England and that’s when it hit me. I HAVE FUCKING SAD. I was as depressed as I had ever been. I hated the weather, the fact that there was no sunlight and it was always grey (apart from a few months in summer)! Long story short, I moved home and went straight to a naturopath to discovery I was in the high risk zone with a Vitamin D deficiency. Since this day, everything has changed. Winters aren’t so bad and I genuinely feel better. So, go, go to your doctor, go see your Naturopath, tell them how you are feeling and just start at the basics. Vitamin D levels.
Before I get too distracted and tell you too much about myself, I want to tell you what you can do to help your symptoms. I hope they help!
What I do to help
I’m someone who lives with SAD and it can be draining. My symptoms can range from having feelings of being hopeless, unmotivated, and I’ll just want to sit inside and lay in bed all day. It sucks, but like any mental health problem, it’s not something you can just make disappear at the snap of your fingers.
As always, I have found some things that help improve my symptoms and get me through the long winters! Here are some of the things I find that help me…
- I take vitamin C + D! Vitamin D in particular is really important since you are likely low in it due to the lack of sunlight.
- I go to the gym in the morning (that’s just what works with my schedule but the afternoon can work too) to soak up the sun of the day versus going at night when it’s dark!
- I try and stay as active as I can! Winter sports can be fun and if you can, you should get to the mountains, go for a hike or simply go for a walk around the block.
- I LOVE my Happy Light! It seriously has so many amazing benefits and is a saviour for those with SAD.
- Okay, this one is important! Make sure to create a reason to get out of the house. Plan date nights, see your friends and call your family! Otherwise, it’s easy to end up in the house all day.
- I make sure to wear warm clothes when I do leave the house to really allow me to embrace the season and hate it less. Comfy socks, fun scarves, cozy sweaters, etc.
- I’ll welcome the light into my life as much as I can! I’ll open the windows, blinds, and use more lamps (while being responsible of course).
- Vacation! Schedule a vacation somewhere nice and warm that you’ll have to look forward to and have a temporary escape from home.
- Comfort food can also help, but make sure to watch how many carbs and sugars you’re eating like cookies, candy, chocolate, pasta, bread, etc. because that could do more harm than good! Warming foods like soup, stews, baked dishes can be perfect.
- TALK ABOUT IT! Don’t be ashamed, and reach out for help when and where you need it. For some people talking to friends or family is enough, for others this means professional help.
- Learn to manage your stress and anxiety! This blog post can help.
The good news about SAD is that like many forms of depression, it is treatable and there are so many things that can help you, even if you aren’t formally diagnosed with SAD in particular, you still might feel some of the symptoms when seasons begin to change so give some of my tips above a try to see if they work for you!
If you have tips and tools that work with your seasonal depression, share below in the comments!
Love from your Greek Food Goddess XOX