Feeling Sacked by SAD? Simple Tips to Ward off ‘Winter Blues’
Nearly one in six adults suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression that tends to hit during the winter months each year. It has been long suspected that SAD arises due to the lack of sun exposure during the winter months. This impacts several factors important to maintaining a balanced mood, including our body’s sleep cycle (circadian rhythm), serotonin (an neurotransmitter that affects mood), and melatonin (a hormone that influences both sleep and mood).
While the majority of people are able to maintain their mood, activity level, and a healthy sleep cycle throughout the winter, this time of year can be really tough on some of us. It can impact our personal lives and even how we at work or about our work. Left unchecked, this can strain employee engagement, interfering with our professional relationships, motivation, performance and morale.
Sense that you’re struggling with SAD or a case of the mid-winter blues? Consider these tips and activities to help the body fight against the adverse effects of the winter months:
• Seek out the sun. It may be cold but if you can stand the chill, commit to get outside. Experts say that it’s possible to absorb bits of Vitamin D on cloudy days. Consistency is the key, while avoiding overexposure and potential for skin damage. Also, from a serotonin standpoint, keep in mind that even the fresh winter air has noted to raise levels of this natural mood stabilizer as well.
• Exercise winter blues away. Skiing, sledding, snowshoeing and even watching the snow fall while outside on a short walk are only a few of the wintertime activities that can raise your spirits. If playing in the snow isn’t of interest to you, research suggests indoor activities can also be beneficial to reducing SAD symptoms. For example, try boosting your serotonin by playing basketball, tennis, racquetball, or soccer at local indoor facility. You can also head to a gym to swim some laps or run on the treadmill. Research has found that physical exercise increases serotonin levels during the activity and also maintains the increase for hours after the activity.
• Power up the smile. Numerous researchers have found the simple act of smiling drastically improves serotonin levels. Whether you’re laughing with friends, smiling with your children, or even watching funny movies, the serotonin output increases and thus decreases symptoms of SAD. Smiles are contagious. Do it more and you’ll have others grinning, too—a win-win for all!
• Eat right. By adding vitamin supplements and balancing your diet with fresh produce and nutrient-rich foods, you can give your system a natural, mood-altering boost. Lean proteins, like Omega-3 rich salmon, carry amino acids that fight off fatigue. Rich-colored berries provide stress-relief through their anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, a one-cup serving of strawberries contains more Vitamin C than a serving of oranges! Leafy greens, oatmeal, lentils and beans contain high levels of folic acid—a water-soluble Vitamin-B9—that supports healthy heart functioning and neurological development. Vitamin-B12, found in shellfish, crab, tofu and fish, has also been proven to support brain health and decrease depression symptoms. As Vitamin-D may be lacking in your winter diet, combine a Vitamin-D-rich food like fatty fish, egg yolks, or fortified cereals with Calcium-rich dairy, kale, spinach, or collards to get the most of your winter health and decrease SAD symptoms.
• Speak up. If you’re struggling with depression or noticing you’re feeling low over the winter, don’t be afraid to talk about it. After all, SAD is very real for some of us. Just letting your trusted co-workers or your boss know that you’re struggling in this way can help in terms of how relationship and motivation get managed at work.
No doubt, you want to keep active, eat well and stay connected to those you care about throughout the entire year. But it’s particularly important to focus on this over the winter months, when we are most at risk for stress overload and declining physical and emotional health. Also, you work in an industry’s that’s dedicated to caring for others. So that’s why it’s extra important to ensure you’re making your own health and wellbeing a top priority. Do just that in ways that work best for your lifestyle and feel GOOD to you. Of course, if you are experiencing symptoms of SAD, don’t hesitate to talk to your health care provider to come up with a customized plan for care.
Kim Thomson, LCSW, Behavioral Health Provider
One Community Health