Do you tend to feel tired and blue when the seasons change and the days get much shorter? You might not just be sad, you might have SAD! SAD stands for seasonal affective disorder, colloquially known as seasonal depression or winter blues. It’s a phenomenon that is typically triggered by changes in daylight as seasons pass - and it can have a serious impact on your mood and your energy levels.
There are a 3 main theories surrounding SAD.
- Some scientists believe that it’s tied to the body’s circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is our built-in body clock, and it dictates how our bodies function throughout the day (and night) and is responsible for making us feel alert or drowsy.
- Other scientists suggest that the change of seasons disrupts our serotonin and melatonin hormones - which regulate our mood and sleep, respectively.
- One more theory proposes that a vitamin deficiency could be the culprit: sunlight is our best source of vitamin D (thought to be involved in serotonin levels), and pending less time in natural sunlight can result in vitamin D deficiency.
Common Signs you might have SAD
- Low energy and lethargy
- Trouble sleeping at night, increased drowsiness during the day
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless, unmotivated, not finding joy in favourite activities
- Changes in appetite, weight gain or loss
- Social withdrawal, feeling lonely
Whatever the cause may be, SAD can have a serious impact on your physical and mental health - as well as your productivity. Here are some tips to help you get through the darker months:
- SAD can interfere with your sleep health, and we know how important sleep is for not just your health, but also your grades. Try to maintain a regular bedtime, and avoid all-nighters if you can. If you stay up late and sleep in, you’ll miss out on crucial morning daylight hours (more on that in the next tip). Avoid caffeine in the afternoon, and try to create a cozy nighttime routine to help yourself get sleepy at night.
- Sunshine is seriously limited in the winter, so get it while you can. Experts suggest that stepping outside and absorbing daylight right after you wake up can seriously impact your mood for the rest of the day. Even if it’s just a walk around the block, try to get some fresh air every day!
- Speaking of fresh air - studies show that spending time in nature can improve symptoms of depression.
- Eat right! Did you know that your gut is your second brain, and it is responsible for producing 95% of your serotonin? Feed your gut the right things to ensure you stay healthy and happy. Foods such as nuts, seeds, salmon, eggs, and poultry have been shown to positively impact serotonin levels, while processed foods, sugary snacks, and trans fats can have a negative impact.
- This might be easier said than done, but try to reduce your stress levels. Avoid overcommitting to things, and focus on things that make you feel good. Incorporate mindfulness into your everyday routine through breathing exercises or meditation. Journaling has also been shown to have positive cathartic effects.
- Even though you might feel like isolating yourself, staying connected to your friends and family can help you feel better during this time - whether it’s IRL or over the internet. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable - you’ll find comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.