Woman-enjoying-winter-sun-[400x600]My Story

A few winters ago, I noticed I was struggling with issues that I had never dealt with before. I didn’t like to socialize anymore, concentrating had become difficult, and my anxiety was out of control. I was oversleeping, gaining weight and craving foods, which were all out of character for me. What confused me was that I hadn’t changed anything in my day-to-day activities or habits, other than the things mentioned above. While I tried to piece together what could have changed, I realized that I was happy and full of energy during the summer months, and then as soon as the weather changed, I started experiencing these symptoms. Living in Eastern Idaho, I found, had a downside. My doctor told me that it wasn’t just the winter blues (although many people think that’s all it is), and I have since been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder or seasonal depression.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately nicknamed SAD) is a type of depression that happens at the same time every year, coinciding with the changing seasons. It’s most common to experience these symptoms at the start of the fall, and they can last all winter. And while I may be younger than some, there is no correlation to age – this disorder impacts seniors as much as anyone. SAD, according to the Mayo Clinic, is related to a change in how much sunlight is shining, which impacts your biological clock making it so your body doesn’t know if it should be asleep or awake.

Symptoms (according to the Mayo Clinic) to watch for:

  • Depression
  • Loss of energy
  • Oversleeping
  • Feeling of hopelessness
  • Heavy feeling in the arms or legs
  • Anxiety
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Appetite changes (especially a craving for foods that are high in carbohydrates)
  • Weight Gain
  • Difficulty concentrating

How to treat SAD

There are many ways to treat your Seasonal Affective Disorder. If clinically diagnosed, your doctor may suggest light therapy, where you essentially go and sit in a box under a bright light that mimics sunlight. A doctor may also suggest trying some home remedies or lifestyle changes.

After I was diagnosed, I opted to not undergo light therapy and treated my SAD by making some lifestyle changes, which made a major impact in helping me overcome this disorder. Here are some tips:

1. Make your environment sunnier

Open the windows and blinds, and don’t sit in dark places! Anywhere there can be light, let there be light! Sitting in the sunlight as much as possible really lifts your mood.

I am now a firm believer in keeping my blinds open during the day. It was out of laziness and neglect that I didn’t open them. By making an effort to have them open during the day, I was able to see the sun and get more light. When I was sitting and enjoying TV during the day, I started making a conscience effort to sit in the light. I realized that I had forgotten in the short time between summer and winter that I loved the sun on my skin, and I started to find myself in a better mood.

2. Go outside

If the weather permits, go outside and take a breather. Let those lungs get the best air they can and allow your skin to soak in the sun.

Living in Idaho, the thought of going outside during the winter months is enough to put a damper on someone’s day. It’s cold and windy, but knowing that I needed fresh air, I made an effort to take a short walk to see a friend or to just enjoy the scenery. Life was better those days, even though I was cold. If you have health problems that prevent you from venturing outside, sitting near an open door can be just as effective.

3. Exercise regularly

Get out and exercise! Whether you’re walking, stretching or going to a gym, being active is best. Exercising relieves stress and anxiety, and you’ll start feeling better about yourself and see an increased level of energy.

Exercising regularly was a challenge for me. I was out of shape and my self-esteem was in the toilet. I didn’t know where to start, so I found a gym and signed up for a personal trainer. My personal trainer helped me set goals and map out a plan to be successful. Next to going to a gym, I found that cross-country skiing was an activity that I enjoyed doing outside. It’s a good cardio workout and gave me an excuse to get out of my house, to exercise and have an enjoyable time. If you can’t do an activity such as cross-country skiing, that’s okay! As long as you are exercising and making an effort, that’s just great.

4. Socialize

Do the activities you love and socialize. One of the biggest mistakes that I made was not getting out and talking with family and friends.

One of the side effects of SAD is becoming withdrawn from social activities. For me this was a huge change in my personality. Activities like dancing and getting together with friends were no longer appealing. I had to be forced to go out and enjoy other people’s company. I started small by having my friends and family come to see me and talk with me. Then, slowly, I worked my way back to going to nightly dance lessons and dinner parties.

5. Management

Stick to your treatment plan if you and your doctor have mapped one out. By doing this you’ll have the ability to take care of yourself, as well as ways to practice stress management and socialize.

As I trudged through Idaho’s winter months, I found that these lifestyle changes made it so I was able to stay happy and productive. That winter was the hardest and one of the most life-changing times I ever had. I had to come to the conclusion that Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real problem. When the next winter came around, I found myself more prepared to deal with the challenges of SAD. My friends and family noticed that my behavior didn’t change that winter, and although it was cold, I had a better season. If you feel that you may be experiencing symptoms or know someone who has a story like mine, don’t just brush it off and assume it’s just the winter blues. Visit your physician to see what your options are.