depressed during the winter? You might have Seasonal Affective Disorder
How do you feel when you see this picture?
And how do you feel when you see this one?
If you felt a strong sense of gloom followed by soothing joy, that’s expected. However, it could also mean that you may be susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder.
As defined online:
“Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you're like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. These symptoms often resolve during the spring and summer months.”
So if you find yourself feeling gloomy, low energy, and simply more SAD during the winter months, note that there is a name given to this condition. In fact, there are a lot of scientific studies that have found many people experience the following during winter:
Feeling down most of the day
Losing interest in activities
Sleeping too much
Carbohydrate cravings / overeating
Feeling hopeless worthless or guilty
Having thoughts of not wanting to live
The Slippery Slope of SAD
What could explain such a phenomenon so many people seem to suffer from? Here is a short list of what our research has found out. We call this, the Slippery Slope of SAD.
Low level of vitamin D and Serotonin. Some vitamin D is produced in the skin when it's exposed to sunlight, and it is known that Vitamin D can help to boost serotonin activity. We also know that serotonin is a “happy” brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood. Hence, reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin which in turn may trigger depression.
The Extra Effort. During the winter, doing anything requires more effort. You have to get dressed up in many layers, put on boots, and mentally prepare to go outside. Even if you have a car, you will need to brave the cold to get to it, as well as survive those dreaded 5 minutes waiting to warm up the car. Doing this over and over again is enough to make you stop wanting to go out at all. Energy Loss. As a result of every activity now costing more energy, your normal diet and energy consumption may not suffice to fuel the winter lifestyle. And so, you may feel the need to eat more to maintain the same energy levels as you would have during the summer. A side effect of this is though, that this makes it very easy to develop bad eating habits. Eating lots of junk food, or comfort food, becomes familiar, and on top of it not being healthy for you, it can also make you feel bad about yourself because you “caved” into an unhealthy diet. This leads to the next point.
What’s the point? As you see, winter creates a slippery slope of factors piling on top of each other to create more and more depression. After experiencing this, it is hard, almost impossible, to see a way out. So obviously, with 4 more months of winter, what is the point of fighting an uphill battle? Giving up hence does not become surprising.
The Final Breakdown. As more hardship and gloom pile up, and you start to feel like giving up, this inevitably spills over into other parts of your life. You slowly associate the hardships of winter with every other activity you do, including studying, cleaning, maintaining relationships, and simply being present and grateful that you are alive and healthy.
Given the above factors, it becomes obvious that SAD is a genuine phenomenon that can happen to anybody. To those who get affected by it the worst, it culminates into full blown depression.
All that being said, being aware of this process is the first step to being equipped to prevent SAD from taking over your life. At the end of the day, we all have the ability to choose how to respond to our environment. Here are some of the ways we can fight the effects of SAD and turn winter into a unique experience others may envy.
1. Understand that SAD is a real thing. By having an awareness of how winter creates this “slippery slope”, it gives you the ability to consciously de-identify with the sad feelings, giving you a better chance to make changes to combat it.
2. Soak in as much natural sunlight as you can during the day. Keep your blinds open to maximize the sunlight entering your home, and spend as much time outdoors as possible – even if it's just for a quick walk. Around noon is when the sun is typically at its highest. Even during winter, the effect of the sun’s rays are the same, and basking in the sun will give you that soothing boost you need every time.
3. Vitamin D Lamp. Get a lamp, check out Mai’s video below on how she sets up her lamp to give her an extra leg up on Vitamin D, and serotonin production.
4. Take advantage of Winter Activities. Skiing / Snowboarding, tobogganing, snowball fights, ice hotels and bars. These are all things that you can only do during the winter months. Having an appreciation for the privilege of experiencing winter activities can feel hard to conceptualize, but trust me, many people living in tropical countries wish they could do a lot of snow-related activities.
5. When it's cold and dark out, it can be warm and cozy inside. As winter approaches, spend time building your personal space to maximize coziness. Once you’ve made that ideal space, staying in feels very comfortable and enjoyable. You may even come to love the energy of a cozy place, especially when you share this energy with friends and loved ones over hot cocoa. Tips for coziness include fuzzy carpets, large soft pillows, bean bags, and mood lights.
You got this!
While SAD is a very real phenomenon, you have the power to overcome it. Take this information to heart, and share how you are feeling with your friends. It is very likely that they are feeling the same way. With power in numbers, you will be even stronger doing what it takes to combat SAD. Lastly, at this time of writing, summer is just around the corner! So at the very least, cherish the fact that winter is almost over!