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SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder

Winter Wellness Advice for Those with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Photo by Osman Rana on Unsplash

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that comes and goes with the changing of the seasons. The majority of people with SAD feel it during the winter when the days are shorter and sunlight is scarce. Rates of SAD tend to go up in northern areas where winter is more severe and the days stay darker for longer. Signs that someone is experiencing winter depression include changes in appetite, weight gain, drop in energy level, fatigue, oversleeping, brain fog, irritability, avoiding social situations, physical aches and pains, and feelings of guilt, hopelessness, and helplessness.

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression, so like depression, it is a medical issue. Anyone experiencing symptoms of depression should talk with their doctor about how they feel and possible treatment options. While treating depression is never a one-size-fits-all ordeal, there are some lifestyle changes most doctors agree upon to help manage SAD and its symptoms. The following winter wellness advice can help alleviate these difficult feelings so anyone experiencing SAD can enjoy the season again.

Improve Your Mood Naturally

Shorter days and longer nights mean less sunlight, and less sunlight directly affects the amount of serotonin the body produces. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that has a powerful impact on your overall health, but one of its most well-known functions is mood regulation. People who test with normal serotonin levels tend to feel happier as well as more emotionally stable. Fortunately, there are other ways to boost your serotonin levels when there isn’t enough sunlight.

  • Your body’s microbiome is a diverse population of microorganisms and bacteria that live in your gut. Your microbiome influences everything in your body from your immune system to your mood. To support a healthy microbiome– and, thus, a positive outlook– consume fermented (or probiotic) foods every day. Furthermore, incorporate plenty of prebiotic foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, and legumes, while avoiding artificial sweeteners and excess sugar.

  • Even if you don’t feel like it, getting in a good laugh is one of the easiest ways to alleviate feelings of depression and anxiety. Laughing doesn’t just increase serotonin– it also reduces the amount of the stress hormone cortisol in your body. Get a feel-good boost by watching a hilarious movie, listening to a stand-up album, or spending time with friends.

  • Exercise is the best way to get a natural jolt of feel-good neurotransmitters, including serotonin. Even as little as a 20-minute workout can provide mood-elevating effects for up to 12 hours. Exercising has the additional benefits of supporting your physical wellness and a healthy body weight, which helps prevent anxiety triggers for many people.

  • Certain foods can boost serotonin production. Eggs, cheese, tofu, pineapple, salmon, turkey, nuts, and seeds contain nutrients like tryptophan and tyrosine that synthesize serotonin. Make sure you are getting enough magnesium in your diet as well. Magnesium is an essential mineral that converts tryptophan into serotonin. Get a boost through magnesium-rich foods such as almonds, avocado, and spinach.

  • Mindfulness meditation instigates self-induced changes in mood that can influence serotonin production. Furthermore, meditation increases the release of dopamine, a chemical associated with feelings of well-being. Mindfulness and meditation are tools often used in cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a common and effective treatment for depression. Mindfulness meditation aims to help people become aware of their thoughts and feelings so they can process them rather than struggle against them or cope with them in unhealthy ways.

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Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that largely affects people in the winter when the days are shorter and the nights are longer. The lack of sunlight may disrupt serotonin production, which can have a negative impact on one’s mental well-being. While SAD is a medical issue and those experiencing it should consult their doctor, certain activities can help boost serotonin production and alleviate feelings of depression. A healthy diet, plenty of exercise, and stress reduction are all keys to balancing the body and supporting mental wellness throughout the winter season.

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