Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects over 40.8 million Americans each year. While most of those cases are mild, about 6 percent of all people with SAD have symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization. Demographically, the condition is most likely to affect women between the ages of 18 and 30, but anyone can get SAD. Here is information you may not know about SAD that may help you, a family member or a friend.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s directly related to changes in the seasons. SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. Most commonly symptoms start in the fall and continue through the winter months. Often people feel tired, lathargic and moody. Treatment for SAD includes light therapy (phototherapy), medications and psychotherapy, but we prefer some natural remedies, which we’ll dive into, below.
Seasonal Affective Disorder Causes
Scientists are not sure of the exact cause of SAD. Many theorize that the lack of sunlight causes the brain to not make as much of some chemicals. In particular, scientists believe there is a connection between serotonin levels and SAD. Other studies suggest that there is a link between SAD and melatonin, as people with SAD often have a higher concentration of melatonin in their bloodstream during the winter months, leaving them feeling tired and fatigued. Other researchers believe there is a link between SAD and vitamin D because it has been proven that people with this condition often have less vitamin D in their bodies than the normal individual. Levels of this sunshine vitamin often drop even lower during the winter months as people spend more time indoors.
Ways to cure those (SAD) seasonal blues!
Brighten Up Your Indoors
If you suffer from SAD, remember you will probably be indoors more during the winter months. Therefore, it is important that the living space be as bright as possible. Painting walls a light color often helps a room seem brighter. Consider hanging a mirror near your window or light source to catch the light and disperse it throughout the room. Use light-colored curtains that open easily so more light can get into a room. More information on how to brighten your home! Another fine suggestion, and one that may be the same cost of living space investments, is to head out on a nice vacation to Hawaii, Florida or California!
Play Lively Music
Another key idea is to surround the person with lively music often. Listening to uplifting tunes has been shown to lower stress, help improve cognitive performance and even help people heal faster. Push back the furniture and hold a dance party right in your living room if you feel like you’re lacking energy. Or, if you’re a fan of Christmas music, consider playing it a bit earlier in the season to keep your spirits up as the days get darker and colder. Here’s one of our favorite “feel good songs” to start out the morning… with the song “Morning Cup of Coffee”.
Find Any Reason to Celebrate
Due to the holidays and traditions that are woven into the winter months, there are several ways to incorporate little celebrations into your day-to-day routines. Gather the family around to make prayer sticks similar to the ones that the Hopi Indians used during their winter solstice celebrations. Invite everyone to learn about the games played during their Saturnalia festival and invite friends over to play some with you. Prepare tang yuan along with other favorite Chinese foods and hold a traditional Dong Zhi meal at your house. Remember that there are five major religious holidays during December, so celebrate!
Aromatherapy often profoundly influences people with SAD. For example, smelling something reminiscent of an activity they enjoy doing during the warm summer months often brings back pleasant memories that can help elevate moods. The opposite is also true. Smelling pine and other holiday fragrances can raise people’s spirits as they are often attached to positive memories. Rose, geranium, bergamot, and melissa may be effective at elevating positive moods without making a person feel more sleepy. While it is essential you choose essential oils and not fragrances for the best effect, they can be used in many ways. Put them in a spray bottle along with some oil to make a spray room deodorizer, combine them with a carrier oil and rub them on your skin like you would perfume or put them in a bottle allowing you to take a sniff when you feel SAD symptoms coming on.
There are many houseplants you can grow indoors to help you recreate the pleasure sensations you get from seeing greenery while the weather is warmer. You might hang some, like elephant’s ear, asparagus fern or bleeding heart vine in a colorful pot. Alternatively, consider using larger plants like butterfly palms or bamboo palms to liven up a dark corner. Smaller house plants, like African violets and spider plants, make beautiful additions to windowsills. You can even bring the outdoors inside your bathroom by using plants that thrive in humid environments. If you own your own property, then you may even want to consider building a greenhouse. If you’d like more information on growing vegetables in the outdoors, check out: EmpressofDirt.net
Start or Keep Exercising
Most people get their worst SAD symptoms right after the winter holidays. This may also be the time when many realize that they have packed on an extra 10 or 15 holiday pounds from holiday meals. This is a great time to start an exercise regime. Many fitness studios offer great deals on exercise classes during January, and joining one often makes people more committed to their exercise plan. Most are also brightly lit, so you get the advantage of getting in some bright lights during the cold winter months. Exercise releases happy hormones in your system that may help you feel less depressed. One of the most relaxing, yet intense, workouts we’d recommend is Bikram Yoga. You’ll feel like you just conquered a mountain, all the while, doing it peacefully. It’s sure to cure SAD!
Plugging yourself into a nonprofit in your community is a great way to feel better about yourself, which may help ease the symptoms you feel from SAD. Look around your community and see what opportunities exist. Often, senior citizens centers are looking for volunteers to help with fundraisers and deliver meals to home-bound citizens. Most animal shelters are always looking for people to help walk dogs and play with them. Explore the different possibilities where you live, including working with the homeless, helping school children, assisting with mission projects or a multitude of other project groups. There are plenty of opportunities in your community, so keep trying until you find the right fit for you. Check out JustServe.org to find a volunteer position near you! Of course, we’d love to have you volunteer here at NAMI CCNS!
SAD affects many people who live in colder climates where daylight hours during the winter can be short. While scientists do not understand exactly why SAD occurs, there are many ways you can help yourself overcome the symptoms. Use these ideas and your own ingenuity to help yourself, a family member or a friend overcome their SAD symptoms. And if you still feel as if you need support, go ahead and seek out mental help. We are here!