Some people say Seasonal Affective Disorder doesn’t exist, and they are wrong. The way I know this is because I struggle with it; every end of summer early fall and transition into winter, I noticed drastic changes in my mood. In fact, I haven’t written the last few weeks because just in the last couple of days I’ve recognized some of the symptoms. The National Institute of Mental Health says that if you exhibit these signs and symptoms including feeling depressed most of the day, hopeless or worthless, having problems with sleep, and feeling sluggish and agitated, you could be dealing with S.A.D.
You’ll experience other patterns of behavior, too, such as social withdrawal, cravings for carbohydrates, and mood swings. The NIMH also says that people with S.A.D. overproduce melatonin, a natural hormone made by the pineal gland in your brain and activates when it’s dark outside. The study states and I quote: “Darkness increases production of melatonin, which regulates sleep. As winter days become shorter, melatonin production increases, leaving people with S.A.D. to feel sleepier and more lethargic, often with delayed circadian rhythms.” I wanted to quote this directly from the article because it’s something to think about; the sun is not out in winter much, and it’s an essential ingredient for mental health sustainability.
Vitamin D is a primary nutrient, and the lack of it can affect how we feel on a daily basis. I wrote up a piece a while ago about how I got used to my circadian rhythm, and while I still am not relying on an alarm, I have been oversleeping. I’m typically someone that rises early and have been that way for a while now. But with the season change, I found myself waking in the 7:00 hour or even 9:00 hour. Too late! When I recognized these symptoms of S.A.D., not being able to sleep well at night or feeling extra irritable, indicated this is the culprit.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is serious especially if you already have depression and mental health issues. I’ve chosen to manage my mental health holistically despite the risks in doing so. Suicide is a topic not discussed enough, and with this seasonal disorder, people can fall into that awful mental state. Thankfully, it hasn’t gotten that bad. Every morning, I meditate, and in the evening too. If I’m feeling not myself, I do mental health check-ins and will journal or do yoga or use light therapy to cope with this struggle. Since I’ve been doing that, my mood has improved.
Light therapy is another beneficial tool that targets the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls circadian rhythms (as well as thirst, hunger, temperature regulations, sleep, and mood). When light enters the retina, this process stimulates and activates the hypothalamus. Thus, this approach can radically improve the symptoms associated with the seasonal disorder. Be mindful, though, because light therapy is not for everybody and should always consult with a doctor before trying anything. These are things that I do so that I can really make the most out of these cold days.
For me, I need more than just light therapy to sustain my mental well-being. In the fall and winter, I increase exercise and try to eat as clean as possible. Additionally, I’ve upped my Vitamin D and liquid B Vitamin intake. Being on a strict daily schedule with supplements provides energy, beats fatigue, stress, and you get a lot out of a day. Also, if my gut is not healthy, I feel the effects. If you have leaky gut, your body is not absorbing the nutrients needed to ease depression and anxiety. So, I enhanced my immune system by focusing on gut health, and today, I see a huge difference. Within the last few weeks of dealing with this seasonal disorder, though, I realized I’d fallen off the wellness wagon. My gut health slipped. I found myself putting work before health and now, I am balanced again.
Educating yourself about Seasonal Affective Disorder will give you insight into how you can manage the symptoms and prevent the behavioral down-spirals. It is tough to maintain your health when you’re indoors frequently, but you can find ways to appreciate fall and winter by making fun plans in advance, doing enjoyable indoor activities, and focusing on your purpose. Since I am a writer, I am inside on a daily basis, but being immersed in something keeps me feeling centered, happy, and productive.