While some of us enjoy the cold escape from sweaty, scorching summers, those with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or a case of ‘winter blues’ can’t wait for springtime to return. “SAD is caused when the season affects the mood. At the start of winters, when there is low sunlight, people might feel lazy, and in low spirits,” said Dr. Rajesh Goyal, a consultant psychiatrist at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. “When the weather gets settled, and with the arrival of summers, the mood may gradually change to excitement,” he added.
“What most people take as case of mild SAD is actually a case of ‘winter blues’, when people feel dull and lazy in the morning, finding it difficult to get out of bed. Making healthier lifestyle choices can keep these winter blues at bay,” said Dr.Samir Parikh, Consultant Psychiatrist and Director, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh. “Seasonal Affective Disorder, however, is a type of depression, treatment for which is similar to other forms of depression, and those suffering from it should seek treatment,” Dr.Parikh warned.
The most common type of SAD is called winter depression, when “depressive feelings are aggravated in people with pure depression or bipolar disorder in a particular season, most commonly winters,” added Dr.Parikh.
SAD usually sets in late fall or early winter with the disappearance of autumnal colours, with moods returning to normal and even excited levels during summertime.
If you’ve been feeling blue but are unsure of whether it’s just a seasonal case or indicative of a deeper problem, we give you a checklist to tick off. Crafted with the help of experts, here are a few steps you can take to stay happier:
1. Let the sunshine in
“The best thing to have is as much sunlight as possible,” said Dr. Goyal. Taking as much as lunchtime walks outdoors possible can prove beneficial in relieving some SAD symptoms. If you suffer from wintertime depression, take advantage of whatever sunlight there is. “Don’t avoid exposure to sunlight as it is of utmost importance,” Dr.Parikh added.
According to Dr.Parikh “a decent morning activity” can help in keeping the winter blues under check. Exercise is a sure shot way to beat the blues. The endorphins released from exercising help in reduction of stress and anxiety, both of which contribute to ‘feeling blue’. “Daily exercise, like walking and other activities may be practiced for complete physical and mental health,” Dr.Goyal said.
Exercising may also help in the building of a better body image which will ultimately help in lifting your mood. While it is hard to get motivated in winter, you could join a gym or adopt a winter sport and make a plan to stick to your commitment.
3. Eat well
“During winters, we tend eat a lot of junk food and resort to alcohol. This should be avoided as much as it can be. A balanced diet is a must,” said Dr. Goyal. “Having coconut water and bananas which are high sources of potassium can help. And if you are feeling very low, you can try dark chocolate,” he added, providing healthier alternatives to junk food.
4. Enlist the support of your friends and family
“Don’t avoid socialising and do all the activities that you are supposed to do,” suggests Dr.Parikh. Depression can almost invariably lead to feelings of loneliness and aloofness. To dispel those feelings, take the help of your family members and friends, and try to spend as much time as you can with them. If they know about your winter depression, they might help you in planning outdoor activities, and keep you company.
5. Create goals and stick to a schedule
When suffering from any form of depression, it is very easy for the feelings of worthlessness and despair to creep in. Make small goals and try to achieve them by sticking to schedule. “During winters, our routine gets disturbed. We should try as much as we can to stick to a schedule,” Dr.Goyal said. Achieving goals will bring you peace and happiness. As you ease into achieving smaller goals, you can gradually strive for bigger, long-term goals.
6. Talk to your doctor
While a simple case of ‘winter blues’ may be kept in check at home, if you find the same pattern of feelings returning every winter, you might have a case of Seasonal Affective Disorder that warrants medical attention.
7. Brighten up your home
If you find yourself living with a mild case of winter blues, brightening up your home with both natural and artificial lights can help in relieving some of the symptoms associated with SAD. Increase the amount of natural light in your home: Open blinds and windows, trim the tree branches that might be hindering the entry of sunlight at home, and sit near windows when in the office or at home. For a dim room, especially rooms you spend a lot of time in, install more lights to make the rooms brighter.
8. Sleep well
Dr.Goyal stresses on getting enough sleep. Make sure that you are getting at least seven to nine hours of sleep every day. Set your alarm clock according to the rising of the sun, so that you can reap the maximum benefits of early morning sunshine, something which is essential to beat wintertime depression.