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Snuffing the Winter Blues

I’ve been apprehensively thinking about Season Affective Disorder (SAD) quite a bit the past few weeks, waiting for the shoe to drop. Every winter for the past four years, I’ve experienced a gradual decline in mood come late fall, and a listlessness that is difficult to shake, no matter how much sleep I get. It snowed for the first time in my area a few days ago, and watching the powder slowly build up outside my window made me wish I had a lightswitch to flip on the sun, or could take an impromptu vacation anywhere closer to the equator.

I’ve never been diagnosed with SAD and there’s a good chance what I experience is to SAD what a brief bout of moodiness is to major depression. Still, I decided to look into treatments or preventative measures for SAD that are affordable and relatively DIY.

Since the lack of light during winter months is believed to be one of the primary causes of SAD, some doctors recommend buying a light box, which is basically what it sounds like–a generally rectangular box that shines in mimicry of outdoor light. These can be expensive though, running an average of $200 apiece from what I saw on Google Shopping.

In search of cheaper alternatives, I found a brief article on PlanetGreen.com that suggests “natural” ways to beat SAD. The first was to spend at least 30 minutes a day outside, which is kind of a no-brainer, but the second I found more relevant–if you have thick, opaque bedroom curtains, replace them with sheers so the sun wakes you up in the mornings. I don’t know how scientifically accurate this is, but I’ve definitely read before that waking up to sunlight helps establish better sleeping patterns and reduce grogginess. Thirdly, the article recommended “focus[ing] on nature” and “going on a hike where there are pine trees!” Thanks, Pollyanna, but that basically falls under “spend 30 minutes a day outside.”

Then I stumbled across the mother of all SAD tip articles, Discovery Health’s “27 Home Remedies for Seasonal Affective Disorder.” While these included several variations on going outside more and letting more light into one’s home, there was some new information as well. DH recommended engaging in “regular aerobic exercise,” which I honestly can’t say that I do, as well as avoiding “self-medication with caffeine or alcohol,” which I had never even thought to connect to SAD before. The only patently unhelpful tip was: “If possible, move to a sunnier climate.”

The DH article also recommended a whole smorgasbord of foods that are supposed to curb SAD, including basmati rice, bouillon, cereals, apricots, cottage cheese, turkey, and peppermint oil.

Of the recommendations, I imagine exercise is probably the most effective remedy, particularly for someone like me who isn’t all that active to begin with. I’ve already started turning more lights on inside my house and pushing aside curtains/opening blinds in the rooms I occupy. Since my usual SAD symptoms haven’t even kicked in full-force yet, I’m hoping being proactive will help eliminate them entirely and make this winter a happier one.

Do any of you have chronic problems with SAD, and if so, what steps do you take to feel better?

One reply on “Snuffing the Winter Blues”

I have a mild touch of this. So far, it hasn’t kicked in yet. And for me, December is usually the worst of it, with aches, pains, listlessness and difficuly getting out of bed. I think the change this year is due to several lifestyle changes. I moved out of a garden-apartment. My new place has huge (literally, 94″ tall) windows, facing south. There’s a massive skylight in the kitchen. I dumped the boyfriend who was mildly abusive to me and giving me depression. I’m eating better, and just generally taking better care of myself. I’ve become more regular with an earlier bedtime and trying to get up at about 7:30 or 8 every morning to catch some decent light before it clouds over in the afternoon. Taking vitamin C and D, upping my fruit and veggie intake. Cutting back on red meat. All these things have helped, i think.

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