The weather is cold, days are short and you’re definitely lacking energy.
Jan. 15 — “Blue Monday” — is supposedly the most depressing day of the year. But experts say feeling depressed during this time of the year is more than just the winter blues — it’s full-on seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
SAD, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), includes symptoms of hopelessness, lethargy and oversleeping. People with SAD also tend to gain weight this time of the year, and it affects more women (80 per cent) than men.
Dr. Robert Levitan, the Cameron Wilson chair in depression research at the University of Toronto and CAMH, says SAD is more about the lack of sunlight than frigid temperatures.
“We know from large studies in the community that this time of year is the worst for people’s mood, energy and general functioning,” he tells Global News. “The first thing to do is to maximize natural light exposure.”
Below, experts weigh in on some of the best ways to manage SAD this winter season. And if your symptoms continue to get worse, make sure you talk to a health professional.
A good night’s sleep
We should all be getting a good night’s sleep year-round, but when you have SAD, rest is crucial. “It allows the mind and body to rest and restore, which boosts the immune system,” says Kasandra Monid, wellness coach of ThinkLife Coaching in Toronto.
Proper sleep (and this can range from seven to eight hours a night), Monid says, also helps with weight management. “Also, keeping a regular sleep schedule will expose you to light on a consistent basis.”
One of the most effective ways to combat SAD is using light therapy, Levitan says. He says we should start our days with light (even though outside is probably dark), by using light therapy products or lamps.
“Get up early and use a bright light with a UV filter for 30 minutes before going to work,” he continues. He adds you don’t have to directly look into the lamp or light, but you can read the newspaper or have breakfast with it on.
Keep a journal
Monid says keeping a journal can help you clear your mind. “Writing down our thoughts and feelings in an uncensored, stream-of-conscious manner can help us clear our head of mental clutter and negative thinking and process what we are experiencing as it happens.”
Focus on your diet
If you’re living with SAD, this is the time to clean out that pantry and spruce up that grocery list. “Avoid eating simple syrups and sugars found in processed food,” he says. “[These foods] tend to give you a burst of energy and then you get fatigued.”
Instead, focus on small frequent healthy meals and avoid eating carb-heavy comfort foods.
“Include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fishes like salmon, mackerel, sardines, nuts and seeds, and eggs,” Monid adds.
Engage in mind-body activities
Besides hitting the gym, focus on activities that challenge your body and mind, Monid says.
“Activities that promote mind-body connection, which helps us to stay grounded and connect with ourselves include meditation, yoga, tai chi and qigong.”
But also hit the gym
It may be on everyone else’s New Year’s resolutions list, but for anyone with SAD, exercising will naturally give you more energy. Whether it’s at the gym or at home, make sure you are getting in a regular workout.
Levitan even suggests walking around in indoor malls or using wearable devices as a tracking and motivational tool.
Avoid social isolation
Monid says research shows that individuals who have strong social networks are healthier and live longer.
“Maintaining close connections with family and friends can help us through difficult times and have an overall positive influence on our mood and outlook.”
Try activities like community events, clubs, volunteer work or other mind-body activities with a friend. Levitan adds being around others will naturally give you an energy boost.
Keep realistic goals
It’s natural for people to set goals in January for the rest of the year, but when people with SAD create unrealistic ones, they may feel more depressed if they fail.
“Figure out what is doable and build from there,” Levitan says. “Give yourself a break and keep your goals simple.”