Leaving my SAD out in the cold
As a native Minnesotan, I am ashamed to admit this…but I hate winter. With a capital H. No matter how much hot cocoa and hockey I fill myself up with, I just can’t get behind it. As everyone is celebrating fall, I secretly am cursing Pumpkin Spice Lattes and sweaters as soon as the temps hit 55 because I know what’s to come. Don’t get me wrong, the end of summer and beginning of fall is pure magic— the start of football season, new beginnings, late night sunsets, spontaneous trips with friends, fall races, my birthday (yes, practically a national holiday). As soon as the leaves begin to change, as beautiful as they are, I feel something inside of me start to shift. It’s almost like a small sliver of my soul dies alongside the leaves. Don’t worry, not my whole soul! Just the fun-loving, sun-soaking, golden-hour-at-7pm-and-I’m-so-happy part of me.
Every year since I can remember, I tell myself I’m just being dramatic once November rolls around. I’m usually a positive person! I’m just making this up- that maybe I just didn’t try hard enough last winter? Or maybe I’m the real-life, semi-more attractive version of the Grinch, because who doesn’t like snow?!
Then, I learned about Seasonal Affective Disorder: SAD for short, which affects roughly 10 million people in the U.S. per year, according to Boston University. SAD is a type of depression associated with the change in seasons. This often begins once the days become shorter in the fall/early winter and subsides as the sun starts to peak out in the spring/early summer.
According to Mayo Clinic, common symptoms include:
Oversleeping or problems falling and staying asleep
having low energy
feelings of sadness or even depression
changes in appetite or weight (especially craving foods high in carbohydrates!)
So why would this happen only part of the year? Isn’t that just the “winter blues?” Yes and no. Mayo Clinic attributes it to three things: the disruption of your circadian rhythm, a drop in serotonin levels due to low levels of sun, and the disruption of melatonin levels. Basically, when it gets dark at 4 pm (who said this was ok?!) our bodies are just as confused as we are, throwing off our internal biological clock, our hormones, and neurotransmitters that affect our mood.
In the beginning of winter, I saw a meme about acceptance, which immediately became the goal moving forward:
Instead of complaining about the darkness, cold, and snow, what would it look like if I just accepted it? Maybe even found gratitude for it?
In October, I did some pretty extensive research on the best ways to deal with SAD This blog post certainly isn’t meant to be a medical paper so I’ll skip the jargon, but I’ve listed a few things that have helped me, and can hopefully help you too as we embrace these next couple (fingers crossed) months of snowstorms.
Get some fresh air every day- Think about it, in the warmer months, you probably spend a lot more time outside. Maybe it’s an outdoor picnic or a walk to work. In the winter, no thank you! However, getting outside can have therapeutic benefits with the biggest impact coming from the sun. Not only do you get a dose of gold ole’ Vitamin D, the sunlight can reset your circadian rhythm helping you keep healthy sleep cycles. Thus, keeping tiredness and sadness at bay. If it’s cloudy, don’t fret! You can still reap the benefits. Oh, being in the cold can actually help boost your metabolism too since it takes more energy to warm up your body. Win-win!
Get moving- We all know that exercising has multiple physical and mental benefits, which is why it’s important to continue (or start) a workout routine. Runner’s World even notes exercise can be just as effective as anti-depressants for some. I find that running outside gives me a double dose of happiness! I get some sunlight and fresh air (something I so desperately crave in the dead of winter) and a boost in endorphins. Plus, running outside while everyone is curled up on the couch makes me feel even more B.A.
Don’t bail on social activities- It may be tempting to skip your weekly get-togethers, but as tempting as your heated blanket and Netflix may seem, seeing friends can boost your mood. Relating to the previous point, I’ve found running with people helps keep me committed to moving, while giving me social interaction and a sense of community. No cabin fever here!
Add a happy light- Perhaps one of the most popular and successful treatments of some of the symptoms of SAD is using light therapy. With days that turn to night as early as 4 pm, it’s important to keep our circadian rhythm as 'normal’ as possible. One way to do this is by adding in artificial lights, dubbed “happy lights” because of the benefits. For optimal results, sit directly in front of the light for at least 30 minutes. It’s better if it’s in the morning (say, while eating breakfast or catching up on emails first thing at work), otherwise, you might get a late-night energy surge.
Keep up with sleep hygiene- It’s important to keep your sleeping patterns and routines as regulated as possible, in order to combat the blues. Fight the urge to go to bed at 5 pm or sleep in until 11 am. Without the sun as a natural marker, it’s easy to want to oversleep, but messing with your internal clock can be detrimental to your mental health. Note: in this case, the early bird does get the worm. People who wake up early and go to bed earlier will see more hours of daylight. Alarm= on.
Long Johns baby!- The PJs, but donuts will also be accepted. If you’re easily cold, take action to warm yourself up during the winter so you aren’t quite as miserable. If you’re running outside, base layers are key. Fleece sheets and heated blankets are life changing. Warm teas or soups warm you up from the inside. Hygge anyone?
Remember to practice gratitude- Regardless of how dark (and I mean this literally) it may get, remember all the good ❤️ There’s a time for every season. Accept that yes, winter is a part of being Minnesotan, but think of all the wonderful things we’d miss out on if we didn’t have it!
P.S. Mother Nature, if you even so much as THINK about giving us another record year of snowfall, I am throwing this all out the window. 😊
(If you are experiencing symptoms of SAD, please consult your doctor or mental health provider for personalized suggestions, treatments, and medication.)