We can thank daylight saving time and colder temperatures for the shorter days and changes in mood and energy levels. The seasonal changes can disrupt our circadian rhythm and the production of serotonin and melatonin – and, not to mention, lead to seasonal affective disorder (aka SAD – fitting, right?). SAD is a form of seasonal depression triggered by seasonal changes, especially in late fall/early winter. Our brains make melatonin, which helps adjust our physical responses to light and dark – but our brains react to natural light so when the days start to get shorter, our brains don’t produce a sufficient amount of melatonin. This is when we start to get drowsy and waking up becomes a challenge. The good news is, SAD isn’t permanent and you can make adjustments in your daily routine to help ease the side effects. Resetting my sleep habits just in time for daylight saving time was a big one! Here are 8 other tips for easing SAD.
Get natural light
Natural light helps activate your brain, making you feel more energetic. You’ll want to get outside as much as you can during the day to take advantage of the limited sunlight. (As if I needed another reason to keep going on my daily walks!) When I’m indoors, I like to keep my blinds open to let the natural light in.
Light therapy boxes are a great substitute if you can’t make it outside or you can’t catch the sun. It mimics outdoor light and encourages your brain to reduce the production of melatonin and increase the production of serotonin
Use a dawn simulator
Swap your normal alarm clock for a dawn simulator. Dawn simulators are also alarm clocks, but rather than waking you up with loud noises, they produce light that gradually increases in intensity – just like the sun. Opt for a dawn simulator that uses full-spectrum light; it’s the closest to natural sunlight!
30-60 minutes of exercise every day can help ease the effects of SAD. Exercise has been proven to improve mental health by reducing anxiety, depression and negative mood, as well as improve self-esteem and cognitive function. It can also offset any weight gain, which is a common symptom of SAD. If you can’t make it to the gym or it’s too cold to workout outside, here are a few at-home workouts I’ve been into during quarantine.
Aromatherapy can influence the area of the brain that’s responsible for controlling moods and the body’s circadian rhythm. Essential oils such as bergamot, orange, lemon, clary sage and eucalyptus can help reduce stress and anxiety and boost both serotonin and dopamine. You can add a few drops of essential oils to your bath, add them to a diffuser or dilute them with a carrier oil (coconut oil, argan oil and jojoba oil are some of my favorites) and apply it directly to your skin.
Stick to a schedule
Sticking to a schedule improves sleep, which can help ease the symptoms of SAD. Maintaining a routine will expose you to light at consistent and predictable times. It will also help you eat at regular intervals, which can help you watch your eating habits.
Writing down your thoughts and feelings can have a positive and cathartic effect on your mood by releasing any negative emotions from your system. Journaling is a self-care practice I make sure to include in both my morning and nighttime routine. If you’re looking to build a habit, I suggest starting off by journaling at night so that you can reflect on your day.
Increase your vitamin D intake
Research shows that vitamin D plays an important role in regulating mood – low levels of vitamin D (aka the sunshine vitamin) have been linked to SAD. So it’s important to increase your vitamin D intake in the winter. You can get vitamin D from sunlight, supplements and foods such as fatty fish, mushrooms, egg yolks, fortified foods.
Salmon in high in vitamin D – and it happens to be my all-time favorite food! Definitely check out all my yummy recipes on the blog. You’ll find recipes like this soy free teriyaki-ish salmon and this easy fish taco recipe.
Talk with your doctor
Since SAD is a form of depression, it’s best diagnosed by talking with a mental health professional. ALWAYS talk with your doctor if you’re suspecting or experiencing any health changes!
Do you – or have you – experienced SAD? I’d love to hear your tips on easing its effects!