March is here. That means springtime is right around the corner, right? It sure doesn’t feel like it out there. On average, temperatures during a Michigan March are in the 40s, yet as I sit writing this, it’s 10 degrees and cloudy. All this cold and lack of sun can really take a toll and your mood. This “down in the dumps” feeling that occurs around this time of year may be caused by Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
What is SAD? Who is at risk?
Scientists aren’t positive about what causes SAD, but one of the common explanations is lack of sunlight due to the winter’s shorter days. Shorter days and little sunlight can disrupt your usual sleep-wake cycle, and can also cause a dip in serotonin, a chemical in the brain that affects your mood.
According to WebMD (a totally credible source), certain people are more apt to experience SAD, such as people who live in areas where winter days are very short, people between ages 15 to 55, people who are women, and people with a close relative who experiences SAD (I’m no scientist, but this list seems like it covers pretty much everyone…)
- Lack of energy
- “Heavy” feeling in arms and legs
- Social withdrawal
- Excessive sleep
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
- Changes in appetite, such as craving carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating
- Light therapy: Soak in as much natural sunlight as possible by sitting near windows and going outside for walks when it’s not too cold. Don’t forget the sunblock though! (Yes, you need it in the winter too). Also consider obtaining and sitting near a light box, which mimics sunlight.
- Eat right: Foods high in carbohydrates may increase levels of serotonin; this may be why the body craves them when experiencing SAD. Feel better by trying Basmati rice, cereal, fruit (ya know like apples, pears, grapes, oranges, apricots), or drink some hot Bouillon broth. Personally, I’d try eating some fruit before I start downing broth, but that’s just me…
- Limit alcohol and caffeine: These drinks can exacerbate the symptoms of SAD. Instead, drink herbal tea.
- Regulate your sleep: Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning to keep your body in its normal sleep-wake rhythm. Also, try not to sleep through the day; you want to be out and about during the daylight hours so you can absorb the sun!
- Exercise: Of course working out is one of the treatments! When possible, exercise outside or near a sunny window. Luckily, windows that let the sunlight in surround the track and Fitness Center at the Rec.
One last note: Different people experience SAD in varying degrees, so its important to pay attention to the signs your body is sending you regarding your mental health. For some, SAD may be more than just feeling down every once in a while. Be sure to consult a doctor if your symptoms are keeping you from living your life normally.