Find A Lifestyle That Supports SAD
Treatment plans for SAD vary depending on the type and severity of your symptoms. The first step is to make an appointment with a psychiatrist or therapist, who can walk you through the medical treatment options, including light therapy, psychotherapy, and medication. But there are also diet and lifestyle changes you can make to help support your hormones and improve your symptoms during the long winter months.
Eat More Plants and Protein. “In my practice, I often diagnose SAD with an uptick of increased sleep and appetite – specifically cravings for refined carbohydrates,” says Dr. Sowa. “Although carbohydrates can temporarily increase serotonin and affect dopamine reward pathways, it can quickly lead to hormonal sugar crashes and weight gain, which can worsen feelings of sadness and isolation.” Dr. Sowa recommends resisting that bag of chips in favor of increased protein, veggies, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Pay particular attention to foods rich in Vitamin D, including salmon and other oily fish, egg yolks, and mushrooms.
Get outdoors. Natural sunlight is important to increasing your production of vitamin D and maintaining healthy hormone levels. If possible, go outside during the daylight for 30 minutes of sun exposure. Even skies that are a bit cloudy and gray can transmit the rays needed to get some vitamin D, but if you live in a place that really embraces the dark winter spirit, speak with your doctor about light box therapy. While a SAD lamp won’t help your body produce vitamin D (you’ll have to look to diet and supplements for that), it will help mitigate some of the symptoms of the disorder.
Keep moving. Exercise can boost endorphins, aka the “feel good” brain chemicals, and bolster serotonin activity. It has also been tied to better sleep, mood, and self-esteem. Find an activity that involves moderate exercise that you can do on a regular basis. Experts recommend getting in a sweat session for at least 45 minutes to 60 minutes per day.
Connect with others. Shortly after being diagnosed with SAD, Vaidehi’s therapist recommended group therapy. Vaidehi found support and comfort in sharing her struggles with others who were also experiencing similar symptoms. She also started reaching out to family and friends she could trust to reduce her isolation and feelings of loneliness. Connecting with others, whether that’s an old friend or a local support group, can help you feel better and boost your mood.
Tackle your stress. Stress can exacerbate depressive symptoms at any time of the year. Recognize what causes stress in your life and, if possible, minimize those stressors. Adopt healthy coping mechanisms that work for you to manage your daily stress. This could be journaling, deep breathing, meditation, acupuncture, or anything else that helps you feel a sense of calm equilibrium.
While the exact cause of SAD remains unclear, the first step to beating the winter blues is recognizing your symptoms and seeking support, as Vaidehi’s story shows.
Since her diagnosis, Vaidehi’s life has changed for the better: “My mental health has improved, and I find myself coping better whenever I feel fatigued or anxious during the winter. I’ve also gained greater positivity and inspiration by continuing to connect and form new relationships.”