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How to Minimize the Effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Anyone else hate it when daylight saving time ends?! While that extra hour of sleep was great, the mental slump that comes after “Fall”ing back often is not worth it.

Studies show that depression diagnoses increase following the Fall time change. Nothing kills a good mood quite like never seeing the sun during the workweek. If you work 9-5 in an office with few windows, the lack of sun exposure will impact your mental and physical health.

So why do short days and long nights make us feel so…blah? Here’s what Science Says…

Turns out, less sunlight and the hour time change is a scientific mood-killer. Setting the clocks back throws off your circadian rhythm. This is your body’s natural ability to regulate the way you eat, sleep, and feel. Since your circadian rhythm is essentially your body’s natural “clock,” it’s significantly affected by sunlight. Less sun exposure + a sudden change in your sleep schedule = perfect conditions for Seasonal Affective Disorder aka S.A.D.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or seasonal depression, affects an estimated 10 million Americans. It frequently shows up in individuals from ages 18 to 30, but also affects other age groups. The symptoms range from fatigue and irritability to feelings of hopelessness. Experts estimate that 6 percent of those diagnosed will require hospitalization. 

The fact that SAD is temporary doesn’t mean you have to put up with its symptoms until they pass. Our counseling team put together some simple, yet effective, tips and tricks that can help you beat the winter funk.

How to Beat the Winter Blues: Tips on Reducing the Impact of Seasonal Affective Disorder

1. Exercise: Get moving to reduce depression

Our relationship with nature is tricky during the colder seasons. The increased darkness outside signals to our body that we need more sleep, which can make regular exercise even more daunting than usual. 

“It’s tempting to become sedentary earlier in the day considering we typically associate the darkness outside with winding down. The more active we are, the more likely we are to produce our body’s natural anti-depressants.” – Noell Luster, LPC-intern at Lifeologie Counseling Fort Worth.

And much of our team agrees. Our counselors suggested exercise as a means to beat the blues most often. Katie Zuverink, Nicolette Aguon and Pallavi Sharma all had things to say about the benefits of keeping active during the fall and winter: “Staying active releases endorphins, [which can] help keep the winter blues away.” – Katie Zuverink, LPC at Lifeologie Counseling Grand Rapids

“You don’t need to go to the typical brick & mortar gym to stay active, go for a walk, dance around with your loved ones, etc. Just keep moving!”  – Nicolette Aguon, master’s level intern at Lifeologie Counseling Oak Cliff

“My one piece of advice to combat SAD is to engage in activity and regular exercise, outdoors if possible. Exercising at least 30 minutes to an hour on a regular basis can help boost our moods by increasing endorphins, and if it’s done outside, the sunlight is a plus!” – Pallavi Sharma, LPC, NCC at Lifeologie Counseling Cedar Hill

2. Aromatherapy: Smell some good smells that uplift you

Colder weather means spending more time indoors. Why not make your home and/or office a more joyful place to be? In addition to regular exercise, Nicolette suggests using aromatherapy to beat the winter slump. 

Aromatherapy can help both your physical and mental health. It has been used in holistic healing for thousands of years. It’s commonly practiced using an essential oil diffuser, but its benefits can also be absorbed into the skin from therapeutic lotions, body oils or creams. Some of Nicolette’s favorite aromatherapy oils are lavender and tea tree oil, but you can try other oils and scents to experience different benefits.

3. Connect with others: Don’t isolate yourself from friends or family

For some, the holidays can bring added emotional distress to this already draining time. When she no longer lived with her family, Meaghan McNamara, master’s level intern at Lifeologie Oak Cliff, says she used to feel particularly down around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But Meaghan soon realized being away from her family during the holidays didn’t have to stop her from participating in the seasonal fun! If you’re feeling homesick around the holidays, Meaghan and Nicolette have suggestions for making your spirits bright:

    • Find old family recipes and recreate them. Invite a friend to join in on the fun and give your goodies to a neighbor, coworker or friend to make their day, too!
    • If you can’t find someone to join you in the festivities, get out of the house and try something new on your own! Drive around and look at Christmas lights, attend a holiday show or walk around and ____ 
    • Organize a dinner party with other single friends
    • Relive some of my favorite childhood memories and share your old holiday traditions with new friends.
    • Create new traditions of your own! If the holidays bring feelings of being alone or isolated, starting your own holiday traditions can give you a sense of empowerment!

4. Eat healthily: Mix in more fruits and veggies

Losing sunlight earlier can make the regular afternoon slump even more daunting during the workweek. Marissa Wilson, LMSW at Lifeologie Grand Rapids, recommends adding more “slow-burning” foods to your diet to stay energized throughout the day.

“Eating foods that burn slowly and give you sustainable energy, like veggies and fruits, can curb the mid-day carb slump that makes us feel yucky anyway.”

This doesn’t mean you need to avoid the holiday cookies and candy entirely. You can still enjoy tasty treats while also adding more produce into your diet! If this time of year brings up challenges in your relationship with food and your body, contact our team today to get in touch with a certified health and nutrition coach.

5. Sleep hygiene: Don’t underestimate the power of good sleep

Regulate your body clock by making a conscious effort to go to sleep at the same time every night. When it comes to sleep hygiene, Katie emphasizes that “consistency is key.” 

Getting a good night’s rest is essential for both your physical and mental health. Good sleep hygiene helps ensure you’re getting the sleep quality and quantity your body needs to be its best!

But a solid routine goes beyond your sleep schedule. Noell Luster, LPC intern, recommends implementing a simple, daily routine that you can lean on when you’re struggling to find motivation. “If it’s hard to get things done, at least we can fall back on the discipline of our daily routine to keep us up and moving.”

6. Vitamin D: Soak it up (or ingest it) to get your daily requirements

With limited sunlight, it’s crucial to capitalize on good-weather days. Katie urges us to go outside and enjoy the blue sky, whenever possible. Try walking to a nearby lunch spot or coffee shop during your work break or taking a moment to sit outside and reconnect with yourself. Imagine yourself soaking up all that vitamin D, your mind and body will thank you. 

If you don’t have the means to enjoy natural sunlight, supplements can help. Katie continues “… if your doctor recommends it, taking vitamin D and B12 supplements help keep the sleepiness away that sets in during the darker months.” 

You may be struggling to get through the winter but please know that you’re not alone. Our trained, compassionate counselors are available to help you year-round. In-person or over the phone appointments may be set up. Contact our team today to find a counselor near you and get started on being the best “you” you can be.

 

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Mental health services update:

At a time when mental health services are more important than ever, Lifeologie is offering remote therapy, remote group and mini-sessions, and discounted services for front-line personnel.