You know Old Man Winter is on his way when you look out your window at 6pm and it’s pitch black.
Are you generally a happier person when the days are longer and the sun is shining bright right up until 9pm? Does a feeling of doom and gloom overcome you during the fall and winter months as the days get shorter and darkness sets in a lot faster?
Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
In the past, I always found it difficult to stay in brighter spirits around this time of the year and couldn’t seem to figure out why. In the summer, when the days were longer, my enthusiasm and energy levels would be at an all-time high; but as soon as October would hit, this funk would come over me and it became a challenge just to stay on top of my routine. It was then that I solicited the help of Google and diagnosed myself with a mild case of SAD.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that is correlated to the transition of seasons. It is said to begin around the fall and end around the onset of spring each year.
According to the Mayo Clinic, some prominent symptoms of SAD include:
- Heightened irritability
- General lack of motivation and energy
- Over sleeping
- Changes in appetite
In addition, I believe the following are also traits of SAD based on my own personal experience:
- Feeling anti-social
- Have a hard time staying focused
- Heightened sense of paranoia
The root cause of SAD is not clear, however, Mayo Clinic further states that some of reasons for this psychological change could be due to a disruption of the body’s internal clock because of the reduced exposure to sunlight or because of a change in serotonin levels (a brain chemical that affects the mood). The lack of sunlight may cause your serotonin levels to drop, leading to SAD.
While there are varying degrees of SAD, the good news is that it is manageable through positive lifestyle changes.
Here are four ways to help keep your head up and energy high, all year round.
1) Keep Busy, Don’t Dwell
Kick the post-summer blues by keeping yourself pre-occupied. Make plans regularly. Don’t give yourself a chance to dwell on the sombreness of the weather. Initiate get-togethers with loved ones and close friends to keep your social life active. If your finances allow it, take a trip south for the winter where there is plenty of sunshine at your disposal. The feeling of always having something to look forward to, especially with other people, is a great way to positively stimulate your mind and keep your motivation up.
In the height of winter, we often find ourselves wanting to hibernate indoors more often, so why not make the best of it by taking up a new, winter-friendly hobby? Tap into your creative side and learn how to paint or become a better cook by learning some new recipes. (The latter has done wonders for me, considering how rusty I used to be in the kitchen.)
2) Don’t Hate, Appreciate
Instead of letting the sky’s premature darkening every year make you a Debbie Downer, take a moment to truly appreciate the natural beauty of this time of the year. Here’s a photo I took from a couple of years ago when I visited New York’s famous Central Park. The myriad of colours was simply breath-taking and really enhanced the beauty of the park.
In addition, it’s also important to not take the sunlight that we do get for granted, because there are people in other parts of the world who are not as fortunate. For example, Longyearbyen is a small, remote town in Norway and is said to be the world’s northernmost city. In 2008, the New York Times and The Guardian reported that the town went approximately four consecutive months with no sun! It rose for the last time in late October 2007 and remained virtually non-existent until it resurfaced again in March 2008 . Whether this is an annual occurrence for the town is unclear, but it goes to show you that other places do have it much worse depending on their geographical location.
3) Stay Active, You Will Thank Yourself Later
Were you consistently hitting the gym during the summer but found yourself becoming sluggish once fall came? We’ve likely all been there. The key is to stay focused. Remind yourself of how good you feel every time you leave the gym after a decent workout. That will be your driving factor. This approach generally works for me when the idea of sitting in bed feels more enticing then getting on a treadmill.
Keeping up with the gym will also ease an overactive imagination. For years, when I was dealing with my SAD-ness, I had developed this sense of paranoia about my surroundings. It was an unsettling feeling of excessive worry and anxiety about things that I would normally not stress about. Thankfully, I have a much better handle on this ever since I changed my perspective and have made a point not to unnecessarily dwell on things or stagnate with my regular activities.
4) Be Good, Resist the Urge
For many of us, summer tends to be a period where we take a vacation from healthy eating with the hopes of getting back to business in the fall – but if you’re dealing with symptoms of SAD, then the fall will only make it harder to get back into shape.
In order to curb this, the best thing to do is think ahead. While it may be really tempting to down that entire bag of dill pickle chips or box of chocolate-chip cookies when you’re snuggled in your pajamas on your couch on a cold, sun-less day, remind yourself of how unpleasant you will feel afterwards and let that be the reason you reach for the apple or orange instead. Just remember that moderation is key.
Keep in mind that while it is perfectly normal to have those ‘bad days’ when Murphy’s Law is in full effect and nothing seems to be going your way, it only becomes problematic when the bad days outweigh the good. If you’re having an especially difficult time staying positive and motivated, coupled with irregular eating and sleeping patterns, and frequent pessimistic thoughts about life, then there could be a bigger issue at hand that goes far beyond the transition from summer to fall, and it would be in your best interest to seek advice from a medical professional.
At the end of the day, don’t let something as natural and unavoidable as the yearly change of seasons affect your overall physical and emotional well-being. Life is short as it is, so be happy, be grateful and see the beauty in every day – sunshine or not.
Trivia: So with all this SAD talk, why do some parts of the world get more sunlight than others?