Lucky are those who don't succumb to seasonal depression, but to the many it's called a name, SAD. Seasonal Affect Disorder, which can be characterized by an excess of low mood, low energy, inclination to want to isolate, and lack of motivation can be felt by many around the winter season.
To begin the discussion on how to get rid of this change of season SADness, let's quickly acknowledge some of the reasons as to why it happens. SAD can be described as a lack of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. These are two important neurotransmitters that are partially in charge of our mood, attention, and motivation. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that is in charge of mood regulation and sleep-wake cycle. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in charge of reinforcing behavior, feeling pleasure/reward, motivation, and turning on the learning center of the brain. Lack of these neurotransmitters occurs due to several reasons such as the lack of sunlight that decreases during the winter time, lack of physical mobility, tendency to eat poorly, and external stress from family, finals, or trying to meet the end of the year quarterly.
SAD can sneak up on you. Just like the sunlight subtly dissipates each day, so does your mood. If you want to get out of this seasonal rut you should start by moving your body. Humans are supposed to be mobile creatures and when we don't move enough we start to feel bad. Aim for 15 minutes of physical mobility daily and that can include stretching, walking, and or even power vacuuming counts.
Next, try to be more mindful of your food intake. Since people are less physically active during the colder seasons, while also increasing their caloric intake due to seasonal treats, one may feel more sluggish, bloated, low in energy, and a lack of motivation. It’s easy for bad habits to build momentum and it’s important to recognize it when it’s happening. Furthermore, recent evidence shows that having a good gut biome (environment) is significantly correlated to one’s mood. In addition, serotonin has also been found to be produced in the gut, as well as the brain. Creating good gut bacteria by eating high nutritional sources of food that easily breaks down in the stomach will significantly improve your mood.
Signs that SAD may be creeping up on you are low mood along with increased negative thought patterns, the tendency to want to isolate more, regression in good habits, and lack of energy/motivation.
Now knowing the problem better we can talk about the solution. The antidote is to do the opposite of what feels natural. In other words, you have to fight the habit of wanting to stay immobile, indulging in seasonal treats out of moderation, not being aware of one's stressed mind, and staying inside. This time calls for a better balance and routine in life. Sometimes it’s a matter of fighting that afternoon nap when you want it the most and investing in some physical activity.
Finally, that’s what all this is for, an investment. An investment into your mental health, mood, routine, and well being. However, just like an investment it may take time for you to reap what you have sown. As some may say, don’t quit before the miracle happens!
Michael Viscidy, LSW