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22 Feb 2021

5 ways to cope with Seasonal Affect Disorder

For a lot of people, winter is the fun season. You can go hit the slopes with your friends and family, or stay inside and curl up by the fire with a hot chocolate in hand. But for others, winter is a dreaded few months. If you’ve ever experienced anxiety heading into the winter months, you could be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. If you’re living with SAD here are some ways to help with it.

What are symptoms of SAD?

SAD is a type of depression that occurs during the same season every year. The exact cause of SAD is unknown but as the earth sits on an axis and rotates every 24 hours, it brings changes in sunlight and differing temperatures. As the seasons change, especially into autumn and winter, the amount of sunlight that hits the earth decreases. This causes behavioural changes in animals and will head into hibernation or some animals, like birds, will migrate thousands of kilometers to get to warmer weather. Like animals, we can also experience changes in behaviour. Loss of light can lead to lower levels of serotonin, a natural chemical your brain releases to make you feel happy. Decreased serotonin will affect your mood and may even lead to depression. So what exactly are symptoms of SAD?

- Low energy - unable to get out of bed in the morning

- Appetite changes - not eating normally leading to weight gain or loss

- Loss of interest - not wanting to do things you usually enjoy doing

- Loss of concentration - things you found were easy now seem almost impossible

- Feelings of uselessness - crying a lot and having negative thoughts

- Loss of sleep - falling asleep at irregular hours

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, the first thing you should do is ask for help. Don’t try and do it alone, there are people who have experienced this before and are there to help you.

What are treatments for SAD?

First things first, determine what exactly you can control and what you can’t control. Write down a list for each. Things you can’t control would be: that the seasons are constantly changing, the temperature dropping, what the weather will bring tomorrow, calendar events like Halloween.

But you can implement coping mechanisms. Here are a few ways that you can start actioning that are within your control:

  1. Seeking help: If you do find yourself building anxiety even before winter has begun. Be proactive and book an appointment with a counsellor or doctor before the change of season. Talking about will help more than you think, even if you are still feeling good.
  2. Try light therapy: Light therapy is where you sit or work near a light box that gives off a bright light, mimicking natural outdoor light. This is meant to stimulate the suprachiasmatic nucleus inside your brain which is responsible for your sleep/wake cycle. Regular light will allow you to fall asleep at normal times and will help boost your mood. If you don’t have access to light therapy, find different ways to get sunlight. For example, go for a walk on your lunch break or work beside a window.
  3. Brighten up your house: if you’ve noticed your house is darker in winter, consider installing a Solatube skylight. This skylight floods your home with 99.7% of daylight while eliminating harmful UV rays. By allowing natural sunlight into your home, it has been proven to increase your brain’s serotonin levels to make you feel calmer and boosts focus and productivity. A skylight will lift your mood all year round and you will start to feel better mentally and physically leaving you happier and healthier overall.
  4. Plants: Add some greenery into your house. House plants can help to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety and can help with seasonal depression. Try putting a Peace Lily in your home office. They give off a calming presence. They do grow quite large so put them in an open space.
  5. Enjoy healthy food: If you’ve experienced SAD you’ve probably found yourself opening a bag of chips. The reason is because food rich in carbs temporarily boosts serotonin levels leaving you feeling energised. However, these foods can contribute to weight gain and can make you feel more depressed in the long run. Try switching out these carbs for healthier alternatives like bananas, kumara, hummus, brown rice and lentils.

In the winter months, it’s really important to look after your health and wellbeing. If you are experiencing loss in sunlight, try light therapy or installing a skylight to let in natural daylight to brighten up your house. If you have any questions about installing a skylight, the team at Solatube can help you.

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