Scientific Ways to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal affective disorder, known colloquially as the winter blues, is a form of depression that affects nearly 10 million people every single year. While doctors may not know exactly what causes SAD, that doesn’t stop it from impacting the lives of millions of people. If you feel yourself experiencing seasonal depression like this, what can you do to help beat the symptoms? We’ve gathered a few scientifically backed ways to help you beat SAD and get back to making the most of the winter months.
Stick to Your Schedule
Winter brings cooler weather, holidays and shorter days. In warmer months, we’re used to it being light until 8 p.m. or later every night, so when our clocks fall back and the sun suddenly starts going down before 6 p.m., it can be hard to keep up with our schedules. We all want to go to bed early and give in to that primal need to hibernate — even though human beings have never managed to perfect hibernation.
Instead, try sticking to your schedule in spite of the dark hours. Routines are an essential tool to help with the treatment of any kind of depression.
It’s always nice to have a green plant on your desk or windowsill, but in addition to being pretty, it can help with SAD symptoms. Some studies over the last 10 years have found that workers who have plants in their offices are more productive and healthier, and that patients who had plants in their hospital rooms recovered faster and were less stressed than those without plants.
Their presence is good for more than just your mental state, though — they can also help keep you healthier by removing toxins like benzene, ammonia and formaldehyde from the air. Even if you’re not good at keeping plants alive, easy-to-care-for varieties like aloe, spider plants and snake plants are all good options to clean the air and keep your house a little bit brighter.
Turn on the Light
The days are shorter and the nights are longer, which means we’re not getting enough sunlight. Cold weather and snow can sometimes keep us inside, making it hard to get enough sunlight to keep our vitamin D and serotonin levels up and our melatonin levels down.
If you can get outside, try to do so around noon when the winter sun is the brightest. Even if you’re bundled up, it’s still an effective way to boost your mood and your vitamin D levels. If harsh weather conditions are keeping you indoors for long periods of time, consider investing in a lightbox or a visor that emits full spectrum light. About 30 minutes to two hours in front of this artificial light is a good alternative if natural light isn’t an option.
The relationship between exercise and mental health has been well studied in recent years, and most of the information has reached the same conclusion — individuals who get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day tend to be happier and healthier than those who don’t. When it comes to SAD, if you have been neglecting your exercise regimen, now might be the time to get back to it. Studies have found that regular aerobic exercise is as effective as light therapy when it comes to reducing the symptoms of SAD.
When you’re feeling those winter blues, sometimes the last thing you want to do is get out of the house and socialize with people. We get it, but you should take the time to get out of those sweatpants and spend some time with your friends — and science backs us up on this one. Studies have shown that socializing is a useful tool for boosting your mood and helping to ward off the effects of SAD.
Just make it a point to surround yourself with positive people who lift you up — leave the toxic people for when the weather is warmer, or just cut them out of your life completely. You’ll be better for it.
When it comes down to it, if you’re feeling the symptoms of SAD or any form of depression, nothing will replace a trip to your doctor. He or she may even prescribe some of the lifestyle changes we’ve mentioned above, but it’s always better to check with a medical professional before you start making changes. You can beat the winter blues.