This is just SAD! 5 tips for surviving the gloomiest of the gloom
THIS IS JUST SAD! 5 TIPS FOR SURVIVING THE GLOOMIEST OF THE GLOOM
By James E. “Jed” Foster, MA, LMFT
Eleven days. As January moped into February, we hadn’t seen the sun in Chicago in eleven days. Ah, January. Happy New Year. Short days punctuated by biting wind chills, salt-scum slathered windshields, and varying shades of gray. Have you watched your mood move from “chipper” to “chippy” since celebrating the dawn of 2020? It’s entirely possible that you’re one of the millions of Americans that defines “SAD” as seasonal affective disorder.
SAD is a very real mood disorder that is characterized by depressive symptoms that are specific to a season of the year that are in remission for the rest of the year. It can happen in any season but is most common in the winter and summer months (yes, excessive heat tends to bum people out too). According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of SAD include:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Having low energy
- Having problems with sleeping
- Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
The winter version of SAD specifically includes:
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Tiredness or low energy
Winter onset SAD, just like depression, can affect every aspect of one’s life. Productivity, relationships, sleep, exercise – all can take a hit as it gets harder and harder to find enjoyment. The causes are not fully understood, but according to the Mayo Clinic, the following factors could be key:
- Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
- Serotonin levels. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
- Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
If you think you may be suffering from SAD, talk to your primary care physician, psychiatrist, or therapist as soon as possible and start to get things turned around. Here are 5 ways that you can proactively prevent and treat the symptoms of SAD:
- Lighten up: Go outside and get some natural light, and if you can’t, buy a full spectrum “happy lamp” to use inside. The feeling here is that shorter days and cold temperatures keep us in the dark longer and inside our homes.
- Move: While it is admittedly difficult to jump up and exercise when one is feeling down, there is no question that regular exercise helps elevate mood.
- Eat healthier: Stay away from sugar and processed foods. Blood sugar peaks and valleys can add to mood instability and energy swings.
- Chill: Reduce stress and learn how to relax. Breath work, yoga, meditation, hypnotherapy – all can help boost quality of life and increase levels of well-being.
- Hang: Keep up your social engagements. Positive relations and connection can help you remain engaged with your family, your friends, and your community and have a preventative effect against depressive thoughts and feelings.
At Comprehensive Gastrointestinal Health, we have a multidisciplinary team that can help you beat the winter blues. Our registered dietician, Claire Allen can help you figure out if changes in your diet can get you back on track. Our physical therapist and exercise guru, Shayne Welch can analyze your exercise habits and help you create a plan that fits your needs. And of course, I would be happy to sit down with you and work on the behavioral side of SAD, pulling from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Positive Psychology, Progressive Relaxation and Mindfulness, and hypnotherapy to change your relationship with stress. Give us a call at 224.407.4400 to schedule a consultation.