Living in sunny Arizona typically means that I don’t see a lot of patients in person complaining of the “winter blues” but Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a very real condition. As the winter days grow shorter it can be difficult for some people to adjust. More specifically, the change in daylight hours affects the brain’s ability to make melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles and if normal production is altered it can throw off our circadian rhythm just a bit. Unfortunately, this can cause some negative side-effect like weight gain, irritability, lethargy, low libido, anxiety, and depression.
Strategies for Managing Symptoms of SAD
Don’t despair! These symptoms typically only last through the winter months although it is possible to experience seasonal affective disorder symptoms in brighter climates and seasons. There are ways to prepare for this time of year to decrease or simply avoid these symptoms altogether.
Eating a diet rich in zinc, omega 3’s, low glycemic carbs and vitamin D have been proven to decrease depression and anxiety in research studies as well as decrease fatigue. In my practice, I also suggest supplements based on the patients’ symptoms, health status, and lifestyle.
Hormones, hormones, and hormones. Get your hormones checked and work with your Living Wellness physician to optimize your hormones.
Make sure you keep moving. It’s easy to talk yourself out of exercise when the temperature dips but exercise is an excellent way to balance melatonin and serotonin levels in the body. Walking, stretching, yoga, Pilates and weight lifting can be helpful. Regular bodywork and acupuncture are great ways to regulate your sleep hormones. Balancing these hormones will help diminish symptoms.
Cutting screen time in the evening also makes a big difference if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Since blue light disrupts sleep, it’s important to put down your devices at least two hours before bedtime. Keeping them at least 6 feet away from you during sleep can also be beneficial.
Shine brightly! Put a little glow in your environment and in your style. Bright and cheerful colors in your wardrobe and your home are an easy “pick me up”. Also, adjusting your lighting can be helpful too. Full-spectrum light bulbs simulate sunlight and actually trick your brain into maintaining proper hormone levels. Think of it as color therapy which can be very beneficial for mood enhancement.
Get extreme. Try to find a laughter yoga class. The literal act of smiling (and laughing) actually does change your mood.