When February rolls around, there's no denying it — we are back to our regular day-to-day routines . . . good times, right? This month can be especially difficult for some because the party is over, the temperatures are dropping, and the days are short. If you're experiencing any symptoms that feel like major depression, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression that is cyclical and seasonal, meaning that it comes and goes at the same time every year. If you suffer from SAD, symptoms may include irritability, a drop in energy level, and possible weight gain. Various studies have shown that four to six percent of the population has been diagnosed with SAD at some point in their lives, while 10 to 12 percent have shown symptoms related to SAD. Fortunately, there are some easy remedies you can try at home to help get you through the next few months.
- Go for a morning walk: A one-hour walk outdoors every morning can do wonders for anyone suffering from SAD. Since SAD is related to a lack of daylight, even some exposure to daylight — regardless if the sun is shining or not — has a positive impact. The hormone melatonin is said to play a part in SAD because melatonin is secreted in the dark, and people have more of it in their bloodstream during the Winter than in Summer. Getting a good dose of daylight can work wonders because light shuts off melatonin production. It takes about two or three days of bright sunshine to reverse any symptoms.
- Keep a regular schedule: Maintaining a regular sleep cycle, on weekdays and weekends, keeps your body's internal clock in sync by setting your circadian rhythm — the tiny master clock structure in the brain affected by light.
- Don't stop moving: Celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow and Lena Dunham use exercise as a way to help lift their spirits, and you can too! Regular aerobic exercise is great for not only physical health, but mental health as well . . . even during wintry months, thanks to that big hit of endorphins it provides.
- Invest in a light box: Light boxes are great if they provide enough intensity to affect SAD symptoms. You want to make sure you're getting one that provides 10 times the intensity of regular household lighting, like this NatureBright Sun Touch Therapy Lamp ($140). The amount of exposure you get each day can range from half an hour to several hours. Even if you are using a light box, you should still be incorporating regular exposure to daylight into your daily schedule, as well as exercise. Discuss a light box option with your doctor if you're wondering if it's something you need.