Six Ways to Help Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

SAD Seasonal Affective DisorderIt’s certainly been a long winter hasn’t it?  Shorter days, colder weather, and lack of sunshine can bring on a serious case of the doldrums and trigger emotional eating for some.

Do you have difficulty concentrating during the winter months or do you feel more sluggish, more irritable, a little depressed, and more likely to turn to food for comfort?

You may suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.  In fact, approximately five percent of Americans (three-fourths of them women) suffer from seasonal affective disorder (also known as SAD) in the winter as daily sunlight hours dwindle.

Dreary days and scant natural light can affect your brain and alter your circadian rhythm, lowering levels of the mood-boosting hormone, serotonin.  For some people, reduced sunlight also depresses dopamine, a brain activator.

Treating this condition with drugs or emotional eating can just complicate matters as these options can throw the body out of balance and create even worse symptoms.

So, here are some healthy strategies to help drive away those winter blues.

1. Let the sun shine in. 

The main causes of winter-based SAD is believed to be the deprivation of sunlight; therefore, exposure to sunlight is an essential element to all SAD treatment.

Spending at least 30 minutes outside everyday in the middle of the day can help fight SAD. While you want to use common sense, even in very cold weather you can usually enjoy some outside time with the right clothes.  You’ve probably heard the saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” It’s amazing what a couple good pair of long-johns, some wool socks, and a heavy coat can do.

And if possible, do your indoor activities near a window.

2. Eat a wholesome diet. 

Whole grains, such as oats, barley, and buckwheat; nuts and seeds, such as sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, cashews, pistachios, and almonds; and greens such as kale, cabbage, and mustard greens are very helpful, as these food contain tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin.

Greens have an added benefit because they are high in B-vitamins which have been shown to reduce depression.  And the added plus for nuts and seeds is most are high in omega-3 essential fatty acids, which have been shown to help increase brain functioning and moods.

3. Avoid stimulants and junk food. 

Continued use of stimulants like chocolate and coffee interfere with the production of tryptophan.  Any food high in sugar and fat fall into the same category.

4. Exercise.

Outside walks to treat SAD

Although it’s the last thing you feel like doing when you’re suffering from SAD, taking a walk outdoors every day has been shown to increase serotonin and dopamine levels.

5. Replace social networks with real, in-person friendships.

Recent studies have shown that social sites, like Facebook, actually tend to make people feel more sad and lonely in the long run.  For a healthy happiness boost, make the effort to spend less time texting and Twittering and more time with friends in real face-to-face communication.

6. Maintain an early schedule.

And finally, go to bed early and maintain a regular schedule. If your serotonin balance is out of whack, one thing you can do is develop routines that tell your body that you want to go to sleep. This will start the melatonin cycle early so that it can be finished early and you can enjoy waking up properly the next day. The old “early to bed, early to rise” saying really works here.

These steps can make a significant difference in combating Seasonal Affective Disorder and help make the winter season a happy one.


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