You’re probably feeling more tired than usual, sleeping more and don’t really feel like dealing with friends and family.  Or maybe you’re anxious and find that you don’t want to engage in stuff that you normally do.

With the change in weather, you might be suffering from “winter blues” or what we know formally as Seasonal Affective Disorder.

First, What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of energy
  • Social withdrawal
  • Oversleeping
  • Decrease in interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating and processing information

As we go through the winter months, you may feel these symptoms creeping up and then deepening as the weather gets colder and you spend more time indoors.  As you go through Thanksgiving, you may not even notice it because you may be caught up in travel and planning for time with family and friends.

Then December hits.  Along comes with it the expired high from Thanksgiving and then the lull until Christmas and the New Year.  Depending on where you live this might mean more snow storms, much colder weather and more time alone – all of which means more isolation which can worsen the feelings of depression during this time.

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder ?

There are a few reasons.  But keep in mind everyone’s body responds to the changes in weather differently.  Checking in with the Mayo Clinic, they list the following as the causes for Seasonal Affective Disorder:

The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD

Some factors that may come into play include:

  • Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
  • Serotonin levels. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
  • Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

Ok, So how Do I Beat It?

Good question!  First, if this is something that you’re struggling with then please first talk to your doctor before initiating any changes.  I am not a medical doctor and this does not constitute medical advice.  If you find that your symptoms are starting to cause negative changes at home, work, school or any other domain in your life then it may be time to see your doctor or a therapist other more serious issues may be at play.  The information shared here is purely for informational purposes only

Now that we have that out of the way, here are a few ways to manage SAD in the winter months:

Light boxes

I am a huge fan of light boxes aka sun lamps because you feel the changes almost immediately after about 30 minutes.  Conducting a search on Amazon.com you’ll find tons of them ready for purchase.  However, please make sure the lamp you buy has at least 10,000 lux as that is the minimal optimal intensity.

Lux is the intensity level of the lamp itself similar to the watts on a light bulb.  You’ll find lamps out there ranging between 2,500-20,000 lux.

Try not go above 10,000 as there isn’t enough research to support its use and effectiveness.  So staying at 10,000 lux means you’ll only need about 30 minutes of time under the lamp. 2,500 lux means you’ll have to use it for 2 hours to get the same effect/benefits.

Check Your Vitamin D Levels

Make an appointment with your medical doctor to have your vitamin D levels checked because given the less time spent in the sunlight, you may be running low.  If so, talk to your doctor about which supplements may be available to you depending on how much you need.

Remember, vitamin D is responsible for regulating your mood and when you’re functioning at less than optimal levels then you may feel depressed, tired or irritable.  It’s worth it to check out whether or not you’re deficient.

Get Your Workout On!

Getting on a regular workout schedule might be difficult at first.  It’s cold and dark outside and no one really wants to workout when they’re feeling like crap.  But believe it our not this is a great way to get the endorphins running which helps to keep you in a good mood until the next workout.

Start slowly.  Commit to 1-2 times a week going for a run or exercising at home or the gym.  You’ll fight the holiday weight gain and manage to maintain a good mood as you power through this difficult time.  Remember, this will only last for a few months so there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Run towards it instead of waiting for it to come to you.

Personally, I loved going to boot camp because it was engaging, entertaining and I was in the best shape of my life.  Once you know that working out reduces the feelings of sadness, fatigue and/or depression then you can make a yearly plan to get a head start by starting a fitness program in September.

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You’ll start a new routine and be in the thick of it when the season starts to change over to the colder months.  This way you’re not struggling with beginning a new exercise regimen in the dead of winter when you just want to curl up next to the heater.  Commit and you’ll love it.  I promise.

I Don’t Feel Like Dealing With My Money Right Now So…

I’ve got a few tips to help you deal with that.  Right now you’re going to be tempted to either spend recklessly or let a few financial tasks fall to the way side.  Resist the urge to go outside of your established spending plan because you’ll regret it later.  Especially, when the high is gone and you realize that none of your purchases do anything for you long term.  Trust.  My Amazon.com cart is full but I am not paying that devil any mind!

For the routine financial related tasks, automate everything!   It’s the best thing you can do to keep your mind off mundane tasks that will be easy to forget during this time.

Bills need to be paid?  Set them up to be paid for your bank’s Bill Pay feature.  Groceries?  Check out Instacart or your local grocery store to see if they offer deliver services.

Here, Harris Teeter will do the shopping after I place the order online and then bring the bags out to the car and I’m good to go.  No fighting long cashier lines and spending time wandering through the supermarket.

As much as you can, put whatever you can, on autopilot.  This way you have more time to focus on the tasks that will help you feel better during this time.  Working out.  Spending time with friends and loved ones.  Hobbies.  Local events that pique your interest.

Keep in mind, there are a few other ways to manage Seasonal Affective Disorder and for some that may even include medication.  The best way to find out is to talk to your doctor before making any changes because you want to rule out any other possible issues.