True, the frosty landscape and holiday lights of the winter months are beautiful. And true, winter snow does bring with it a chance to partake in a unique set of fun winter activities. However, for many of us, these shortened days and sunshine-starved months tend to bring on a major case of the winter blues. If severe enough, those blues can be diagnosed as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. With up to 8% of adults in the United States who hold this diagnosis and many more who remain undiagnosed, it’s more common than you may have thought.
SAD occurs in winter months, largely because of the lack of natural light. Also, it is more prevalent in men than women. In fact, about 80% of those with this disorder are women. Those who are diagnosed can experience depression, trouble sleeping, irritability, lethargy, or even a weakened immune system during the winter. And women with SAD can experience depressive symptoms with their menstrual cycle. Some experts believe that the lack of sun causes some people to produce a higher-than-normal amount of melatonin, leading to feelings of sluggishness. Our bodies’ natural rhythms can become out of sync, leading us to be restless at night and slothful during the day.
So what to do about these life-altering winter blues? Well, short of packing up and finding a sunny island to inhabit November through March, there are a few things you can do to combat the depressive symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
- Believe it or not, massage may hold some relief for sufferers of Seasonal Affective Disorder. During the winter our serotonin levels can drop, leading to feelings of depression. Massage naturally raises our serotonin, leading to higher feelings of well-being.
Massage raises other hormones in your body that lead to feelings of productivity, and can promote a better sleep, both of which might be at a deficit with someone experiencing depressive symptoms.
Also, when you’re feeling depressed, it can be really hard to summon up the energy to take major steps toward self-care. It’s the unfortunate irony of depression; the time when you really need to take steps to take care of yourself is the time when you’re the least likely to do so. However, with massage, the self-care effort on your part is easy; simply lie down on the massage table and relax, letting the therapist take care of the healing part.
- Some SAD sufferers also utilize light therapy in the winter. Light therapy, or phototherapy, uses special light bulbs and wattage that mimic the sun’s natural light. Light boxes can be purchased online, and some experts recommend using light therapy in the early part of the day to help reset your circadian rhythm.
- Lastly, try to get outside when the sun is out, as weak as the rays might be. Soaking up some natural light and vitamin D, and exercising a little while you’re at it, can help to raise your mood and energy level.
Don’t let your winter blues have the power to steal the joy out of your holiday season. Taking these steps toward all-natural mood wellness may be the missing pieces toward a happier winter for you and your family.