Don’t get SAD
If you’re suddenly feeling a drop in your energy and happiness levels now that summer’s come to a halting stop, you’re far from alone. Seasonal affective disorder—think of it as winter depression—can lay you low. The malady is common, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians: As many as 20 percent of Americans experience it. “SAD is caused by the disruption of hormones, such as serotonin and melatonin, which influence our sleep cycles, mood regulation and overall feeling of well being,” explains Ariane Machin, PhD, clinical psychologist and co-founder of the Conscious Coaching Collective. “It can impact how we function during sleeping and waking hours, causing us to feel more drowsy, lethargic and moody more than normal.” Whether or not you’re experiencing SAD or simply someone who prefers sunshine and warmer weather (we don’t blame you!), there are plenty of ways you can boost your mood and shake off the blues during the off-season. Here, experts share their best-kept secrets to avoiding the condition during the dreary winter months.
Create an action plan
If you’re someone who’s used to feeling less happy and energized during the fall and winter months or someone who knows they’ve experienced SAD in the past, you’ll likely know what to expect. You may also, however, experience anticipatory anxiety or moodiness knowing what is to come. “Use this time to reach out to your support network, identify strategies that have worked before and get your action plan in place,” says Dr. Machin. “Reach out to those that care about you and share what you might be experiencing.” She adds that even once the winter months have started, it is not too late.
Countless studies have found that regular exercise can ease depression—almost as well as prescription medications. So it’s no surprise that activity can prevent the symptoms of SAD. “Exercise releases the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, thus, it can help improve mood and overall health,” explains Dr. Machin. “This can combat common symptoms of SAD, such as moodiness and lethargy.” The good news is you don’t have to be an avid runner or cyclist to kick symptoms of SAD—you just have to get moving. “Anything that involves movement and makes you feel good about yourself and your health would be sufficient!” Dr. Machin adds. “You can also involve a personal trainer or engage professionals at a gym if you wanted more support, but even at-home workouts, daily walking or anything outdoors would be great intervention strategies!” Just check out what exercise can do for your brain.