Here at Piper+Enza, we want to make sure kids and their families have all the resources they need for a better physical and mental health journey. In the fall and winter seasons, with their colder, shorter days, many adults (and some kids) experience seasonal mood changes. So we asked our experts, including child psychologist Dr. Mary Goodarzi and herbalist and educator Giselle Baumet, to help us answer the question: How can I stop being SAD in the winter?
Feeling sad, down, and not quite like yourself during the Fall and Winter is a common occurrence and for some, it may be new, but if this sounds like you, there’s a chance it’s Seasonal Depression.
Seasonal Depression (or Seasonal Affective Disorder), also known as SAD, is a type of depression triggered by changes in seasons, and most often, it happens in the fall.
It affects both adults and children and being that we are in the fall season, we want to share some information about SAD.
First, we want to start by normalizing that depression is a part of many people’s lives. Most people have or will experience some form of depression at one point in their lives.
While there is still a stigma to depression today, we know that one of the ways to reduce the stigma is to talk more about it.
This article will discuss SAD more to help others understand it, why it happens, and coping mechanisms you can use for yourself or your child.
Who is at risk of SAD?
About 5-10% of people experience SAD each year, but some are more likely than others to experience SAD.
The risks of SAD are higher for those that:
- Have a family history of depression
- Have had any other mood disorder
- Live in an area that gets significantly less sun during the winter season
- Live in a primarily cloudy area
What are the symptoms of SAD?
Please know that not every person will have all of these symptoms when experiencing SAD, but it’s essential to know some signs to recognize them.
- Feeling down almost every day
- Lose interest in the things you used to love
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
- Easily agitated
- Experiencing low energy
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Having a hard time concentrating
- Having suicidal thoughts
- Oversleeping (hypersomnia)
- Strong desire for carbohydrates and overeating
- Losing the desire to be in social settings
- Having trouble sleeping
- Feeling more violent (whether in thoughts or actions) than normal
How is SAD diagnosed?
If you suspect you or your child may be experiencing SAD, you’ll want to visit your primary care provider or a mental health specialist.
Here are the ways that people are diagnosed with SAD:
- You have some of the symptoms listed above.
- The depressive episodes occur during specific seasons for at least two consecutive years (but please note that not all people experience SAD each year).
- Depression during seasonal changes is much more prevalent than other forms of depression.
Why do people get SAD?
Science doesn’t fully understand why someone experiences SAD, but there is a correlation between having less serotonin and more melatonin than others.
Serotonin is the hormone that helps regulate moods. And melatonin is the hormone that maintains the normal sleep-wake cycle.
There’s also a connection to vitamin D deficiency, as vitamin D promotes serotonin production.
What is the treatment for SAD?
There are three main treatments for SAD, and these include:
- talk therapy (psychotherapy)
- light therapy
- Vitamin D
People may mix in some of these therapies for the best results. For example, light therapy is, as it sounds, exposure to bright light (usually in light boxes, since most people with SAD live in areas that experience less sun in the Fall/Winter months).
And most of us are familiar with talk therapy, where we visit a mental health therapist to talk about our emotions and feelings and work on coping mechanisms.
Antidepressants can be very beneficial to those struggling with SAD, in addition to supplemental therapies such as talk therapy.
And since most adults are deficient in Vitamin D, it is recommended that they be mindful of their Vitamin D intake.
How can I stop being SAD in the winter?
Holistic coping strategies, by Giselle Baumet
If you or your child are experiencing SAD, there are holistic coping mechanisms you can do in addition to seeing your primary care provider.
We encourage you to try these and experiment with how they affect your mental and emotional wellness. Remember that there are multiple ways to overcome SAD; these are simply three for you to try.
The practice of meditation can be potent for reducing stress and increasing serotonin.
There are many ways to meditate.
When I first started meditation, I thought that meditation was about clearing the mind and sitting in a lotus position, which I found uncomfortable. And clearing my mind was nearly impossible.
However, the more I learned about meditation, I was able to start meditating in a way that felt comfortable to me.
You also will need to experience various forms of meditation to know which method works best for you, but here’s my meditation practice, which might be helpful to you.
Giselle’s Simple Meditation Practice
- Start with moving about any parts of your body that feel uncomfortable. Ideally, I prefer doing a few gentle yoga stretches before meditating, bringing focus to my breath and ensuring I’m not holding it in.
- Then I lay or sit comfortably wherever I am, sometimes in my bedroom on a yoga mat, other times on my sofa, with a pillow behind my head.
- I like to put a timer so that I don’t need to worry about how much time has passed or if I’m running late for my next to-do, so I set a timer for however long I have or want to meditate. That could be anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes.
- When ready, I gently close my eyes and focus on breathing more deeply than I usually do.
- As I breathe comfortably, I begin to bring my energy back to my body. Imagine that having your thoughts, feelings, and who you are on everyone else in your life or your current situation of uncertainty is the same as your energy outside your body. Instead, imagine it all coming back to your body. Bringing your energy back to your body is also a good way of grounding yourself.
- As I begin to ground myself, I become aware of my thoughts. Please know that you aren’t expected to have any ideas in meditation. The goal is to be mindful of them. It’s almost as if you’re saying to yourself, “Ah, there is a thought about work and the deadlines coming up.” And all you’ll do is become aware of that thought and let yourself know that you’ll address it more in detail later. Do that for any idea, and keep bringing your energy back to your body.
- Keep along this way until you feel you’re finally in your stillness. And in this phase, be.
- I like asking myself, “What is it that I’m supposed to know?” And since I practice stillness often, I get a sense of my answer. Only sometimes does it become apparent, but more often than not, it does. Essentially, you’re at this point connecting to your inner wisdom. Call it intuition if you’d like. Do not question it. Just sense it.
- I may continue exploring with feeling, knowing, sensing, or listening to my guidance. Still, once I feel complete, I will breathe through it and begin soothing, calming, affirming visualizations. If you’re a visual person, you might find this satisfying.
- As I close out my meditation practice, I will again focus on my message, affirming it, feeling the way I want to think in my best self, and often, I’ll end the practice with journaling.
Try this meditation and change it to what works best for you as you develop your practice. There is no one way of meditating, and that’s the most important thing I want you to know.
(2) Spend time outdoors.
Remember that a lack of light exposure and Vitamin D are connected with SAD, so the more time you can get in daylight, the better.
- Go for a walk in the brightest part of the day, even if it’s just a 15-minute walk.
- Keep your blinds and curtains open to get as much daylight into your home as possible.
- Consider bright light therapy if your daytime hours are limited or your time outdoors is restricted.
- Discuss taking Vitamin D supplements with your care provider about.
3) Increase your serotonin and melatonin through diet.
Changing your diet to foods that increase your serotonin and melatonin can affect your mood.
Shifting to a diet that supports your mental and emotional wellness is beneficial.
First, let’s begin with sleep-regulating foods. Melatonin is the sleep-inducing hormone that regulates our sleep/wake cycles.
Here are foods with known sources of dietary melatonin:
- Tart Cherries
- Fatty Fish
- Goji Berries
- Yeast (can be found in bread, for example)
Now for foods that increase serotonin. Remember that serotonin is the hormone that helps regulate moods, and the more balanced your serotonin, the better your mood through the seasons.
Foods that increase serotonin:
- Fermented foods
- Seeds and Nuts
For both lists, find ways to add these foods to your diet and make it a part of what you eat regularly. As your body receives these nutrients, your melatonin and serotonin will begin to rise, which will support the other practices you integrate for SAD.
While SAD can feel very sad and alone, please know that there are solutions for you.
You are not alone in this experience, and through medical care, plus natural practices, such as more time outdoors, dietary changes, and meditation, you can begin to experience much better feelings during all four seasons.