Coming back from my girl’s trip to Florida was a shock to the system, to say the least. We flew from an 85-degree morning at the beach to a casual 19-degree snowstorm. But the dark skies and cold temps didn’t get me down. I was still riding the high of our sunny days splashing in the pool.
Any time I travel in the winter, I come back feeling like a whole new person. Yes, the time off from work is half of that, but the other half is being exposed to the warm sunlight that I miss like crazy in the winter.
Like many women, I’ve suffered from SAD for as long as I can remember. And I’ve learned a lot of ways to help ease the symptoms over the years.
What exactly is SAD?
Seasonal affective disorder, also known as seasonal depression, affects people in different ways but in general, those of us who suffer from SAD have symptoms similar to depression, but only during the months with less sunlight. I read that 5% of adults in the US experience SAD and that it’s more common among women. For most people, including myself, SAD symptoms disappear fairly quickly when springtime rolls around.
My symptoms include a sense of deep-rooted sadness that I can’t shake for weeks on end, lack of motivation and focus, exhaustion even when I’ve slept for more than enough hours at night, and heightened anxiety. For others, the symptoms can be much more intense. Since I’ve been on anxiety medication, my SAD symptoms have been much better, however. That said, I’ve been dealing with SAD for a longggg time, and over the years, I’ve learned a lot about how to treat it.
11 Ways to beat SAD
Light Therapy: This year I bought a new SAD lamp for my desk after one of you guys recommended it to me (apparently it was on Dr. Oz and Shark Tank). It’s the best $39 I’ve spent this winter. I turn it on for 20 minutes/day while I work. It has to be within 12 inches of your face but it’s so small and light that it’s easy to move around. I also love that it closes into a sleek white tower that I can keep on the corner of my desk without it being an eye-sore.
Light therapy improves your mood which is why I use it but it can also help with concentration, boosting your energy during the day, and helping to maintain your healthy sleep-wake cycle. I have found all of these claims about light therapy to be true for me.
Morning sunlight: While the SAD lamp is amazing, nothing beats natural sunlight. A friend who suffers from SAD recently taught me this one and I’ve been doing it for the last 2 weeks with success. On sunny days, go outside in the early morning light and put your face to the sun. Pull down any jackets or sweaters so the sunlight touches your neck. Stay out as long as you can but even 2 minutes makes a difference. I have been doing it when I let the dog out in the mornings before Amalia wakes up. I hold my mug of tea and drink it to stay warm.
Meditations: I cannot believe that I’m a meditation convert but I am. I mentioned the Happiness Mediation I’m doing on Headspace in last week’s 5 Random Things post and it has really boosted my mood. It gives me daily tasks to be kind to others, to myself, and to practice more empathy as well as daily visualizations to fill my body with happiness and love. When I finish tomorrow, I might start it all over again!
Note: My Headspace subscription was gifted for a paid campaign. Inclusion in this list is not a part of the campaign.
Take turmeric: I take this turmeric/curcumin supplement daily to help with inflammation and my sinus polyps, but I had no idea that it also helped with SAD until my friend Carolyn, a registered dietician who answers all of my nutrition-related questions, told me that it is (in her words) “life” for SAD.
She said, “Add turmeric or the active part of the turmeric root called curcumin to your diet in the winter. It has surprisingly effective mood benefits. Trials on major depressive disorder have found that curcumin can have equal effects to the antidepressant Prozac (please, of course, talk to your doctor about this). If you’re going to cook with turmeric, awesome! But make sure you add black pepper for 2000% increased absorption.”
And vitamin D: Carolyn also suggests that women take a vitamin D supplement in the wintertime. It’s important for immunity and also big-time for mood. Start with 2000 IU/day. I take 2000 IUs of vitamin D with these drops. I put a drop on my eggs in the morning or drop it directly onto my tongue. I give Amalia two drops of kids vitamin D (just a lower dose) on her breakfast every morning.
Get moving outside: If I didn’t have Boots, I wouldn’t be as motivated to go outside every day but when I get back home after walking or running him, I always feel 10x better. Even if it’s only 10 minutes, go for a walk or a jog, shovel snow, or do something fun like sledding with your kids. Being cooped up is a big part of the program for me.
Have a friend to check-in with: An old friend of mine and I have a system where we text each other about what we’re feeling anxious or sad about (year-round) just to get it off our chest. The other person doesn’t give advice unless the person asking asks for us. It’s a wonderful way to stay in touch and feel like you have support from one another from afar. If you don’t suffer from anxiety or depression year-round, try setting up a system like this just during the winter.
Cut alcohol: I don’t know how many years it’s been but I’ve been doing Dry January for what feels like forever. I always feel so good by the end of the month. My mood is elevated, my sinuses clear up, and I have much more energy. You can read a recap of last year’s Dry January here. Try drinking less alcohol or cutting it all together for a few weeks and see what happens. You’ll be surprised how much of a difference it makes, even if you aren’t a big drinker.
Diffuse essential oils: I diffuse essential oils in either a diffuser or with stones on my desk while I work. Vitruvi Boost is one of my favorite oils for energy and mood-boosting but I also love anything lemongrass, citrus, lemon, peppermint, or eucalyptus. I use mostly DoTerra oils (I’m not a part of their MLM, just love the products) because I think they’re the best quality for both scent and functionality.
Travel (if it’s in your budget): It’s obviously not always possible but if you can get out of town and go somewhere warm, even if just for a few days, it completely resets your system and makes the biggest difference of anything on this list.
Ask for help: If your SAD makes you unable to live a normal life, get yourself into therapy to talk it out, and, potentially get on medication if it’s necessary. Remember that there is no shame in asking for help when you need it!