The Winter Sads

by Rachel on February 8, 2010

There’s not a person I’ve talked to recently who isn’t feeling the blues. Come February it’s like a flip gets switched and we just lose all hope that the sun will ever come out or winter will ever end!

This time of year it’s time to do a SAD check — that is, Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is a type of depression that only affects people during the same season each year. Experts say it may be caused by lack of sunlight which effects your sleep cycle, your brain’s serotonin production, your vitamin D levels, and your mood.

According to Web MD the symptoms are feeling sad, grumpy or anxious, wanting to sleep more/feeling drowsy during the day, carb cravings, weight gain, and loss of interest in your usual activities.

Um by that definition, I’m pretty sure we’re all a very SAD bunch right now! It’s like you don’t feel like going to kickboxing…and you just want to eat bagels…and then you gain weight so you don’t want to go out with your friends…you’d rather just stay here and nap…and then snap at everyone around you…ugh!

I feel this way pretty much every year! It’s not a terribly gripping condition, but it is annoying to check out from my usual upbeat, go-go-go demeanor. For me, I notice it most in the lack of interest in doing my usual activities. At the end of January, the thought of going to the gym or even going shopping gave me a huge headache. If I’m not interested in Target…we have a problem.

This year, though, I decided to work at combating it a little more actively. I mean, really, why waste three months of the year wallowing in bagels and sweatpants? Here are some things you can do to fight it:

  • Get your vitamin D levels checked. Whether or not vitamin D deficiency causes depression is still up for debate, but scientists do know that vitamin D plays a part in brain function and may help mood.
  • Choose the right foods to heal! Fish and fish oils and healthy carbs (especially brown rice and whole-grain oats) are connected with improved mood. Having salmon and brown rice once or twice a week isn’t necessarily going to make you feel like Suzie Sunshine, but these little things can add up! I know that when I feel blah at night, a bowl of pimped-out oats with healthy servings of banana, nut butter, and butterscotch chips is carby and sweet enough to make me feel better but won’t mean I’ll feel like a whale come spring.
  • Eat carby snacks like popcorn  (not movie popcorn please and thanks), Popchips, soy chips, and whole grain crackers (Triscuits are a good bet). By planning to eat healthy carbs, it makes it easier to resist when 3:00 hits and you determine that happiness is at the bottom of a bag of Doritos.
  • Work it! Exercise really is the solution to so many of life’s problems, but when you have the Sads, it’s the last thing you feel like doing. So…find a new way to work it! I think winter is a great time to take a dance class! It doesn’t have to be at the gym; signing up for adult dance lessons is a good way to move your body and be around other people. And if you commit to an 8-week class at your local community center, it’s a better bet that you’ll stick with it — let’s be honest…the hip-hop class at Crunch on your way home from work is easier to skip.
  • Consider herbal remedies such as St. John’s Wort and 5HTP. But please do your research – St. John’s Wort, for example, interferes with birth control pills.
  • LOL!!! You need to laugh, so whatever it is that makes you laugh – whether it’s Fail Blog or talking to your BFF – you need to do it! I’m currently watching “I’m F*cking Matt Damon” on YouTube while I eat breakfast.
  • Try light therapy. This basically means sitting by a special lamp designed to mimic natural sunlight to get your body producing vitamin D and feel-good hormones once again.

Here are some things you should not do:

  • Don’t go tanning! You know how I feel about this. There’s nothing more irritating to me than tanning salons who market themselves as antidepressants. You know what’s depressing? Cancer.
  • Don’t reach for white carbs or sugary treats. Yes, the initial reaction will be a feeling of comfort, but when your blood sugar gets F-ed,  you’re going to feel like crap again.
  • Don’t OD on caffeine. There is no direct link between caffeine and depression, but it does affect our hormone levels and can exacerbate stress, anxiety, and depression. If you’re feeling jittery, it might be time to cut back.
  • Don’t ignore your symptoms! If you’ve been feeling this way for a while…or you continue to feel this way long after St. Patrick’s Day…talk to your doctor! There’s absolutely no shame in seeking help. And if you’ve had any suicidal thoughts, you need to talk to someone immediately.

This year I finally decided to go the light therapy route. I had been thinking about it for years, but I was pretty sure a happy lamp cost about $300. Then I saw one in People Style Watch (of all places!) for $70 and decided it was time. A friend of mine in college had one and really loved it, and my doctor had mentioned it a while back. So I ordered this Verilux HappyLite Mini from Amazon!

According to the company, using it 15-60 minutes a day (preferably in the morning) can help the brain release serotonin, which results in increased energy and an elevated mood. They suggest you set it to the side, not directly in front of you. I put it on my desk, where I spend most of my day.

(This is where the magic happens!)

The light is so bright, but once you get used to it, it’s just there. It’s hard to say if it’s working — it’s only been a week, and I can’t really say I’ve really done a controlled research study. However, I will say that I feel like I definitely have increased energy and a better mood! Is it because of the lamp? Who knows? And, well, who cares? I’m looking forward to going to the gym once again, so that’s a win in my book!

But really, this is curing my Sads today.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Teri [a foodie stays fit] February 8, 2010 at 8:52 am

I’ve heard all about SAD before but never knew specific symptoms other than just feeling “down.” But all the ones you listed are exactly how I feel lately!! I’ll definitely be trying your tips. And let me know how you like that light.
.-= Teri [a foodie stays fit]´s last blog ..Make Good Choices =-.

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2 Julia February 8, 2010 at 10:12 am

Another reason Vitamin D is important: Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to Multiple Sclerosis – prevalence rates of MS are much higher in northern states that have longer, dreary winters than southern sunny states. So, get your Vitamin D! This goes for people who mostly work inside all day too!

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3 AndrewENZ February 8, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Hmm…sorely tempted to buy one of those lamps.
.-= AndrewENZ´s last blog ..Weigh in post #6 2010: Now with push-ups! =-.

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