I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a little blah mood coming on. I can’t imagine anyone excited to get back indoors after a summer literally shorten by the delta variant. I know I am not alone as seasonal sadness is a well-known fact currently trending on social media.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), people may start to feel “down” when the days get shorter in the fall and winter (also called “winter blues”) and begin to feel better in the spring, with longer daylight hours. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) reports that usually 20 percent of the population may suffer from mild symptoms of sadness and 4-6 percent have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a more serious type of depression. It is believed that these feelings for many are triggered by the changes in daylight and weather. If you have a history of mental illness, SAD could be very serious requiring medical attention.
We must all find healthy ways to deal with these seasonal changes to curtail any negative consequences to our well-being. NIMH reports common symptoms of seasonal sadness affecting our physical health include overeating, cravings, and weight gain. I think we can get ahead of the downfall, frustration, and health consequences with good self-care to get ahead of the “winter blues”.
Let the sunshine in. Sunshine and Vitamin D can lift our mood. Low dietary intake of vitamin D or not enough sunlight exposure is common in people affected by seasonal sadness. A combination of eating more foods with vitamin D and getting enough sunlight could help. Foods high in vitamin d include some fish (salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel), dairy foods, mushrooms, and eggs. Our body will make enough vitamin D given proper sun exposure. We need 5- 30 minutes of sunlight exposure on most of our body during peak sun hours. Darker skin tones absorb the sun rays much slower, and it could be very difficult in cold climates. If you recognize your limitations with these, it’s always wise to talk with your physician and get your levels checked and recommended supplementation.
Build a realistic cold-weather exercise plan. Regular exercise is a great way to fight seasonal depression, especially if you're able to exercise outside in natural daylight. This can help you boost serotonin, endorphins, and other feel-good brain chemicals. Numerous studies show that regular exercise can help with mild to moderate depression.
Explore ways to manage consistent overeating. Overeating and indulging can distract us from negative feelings and soothe feelings of sadness and loneliness, but it isn’t a long-lasting solution for many. If this is your primary coping strategy, it is time to get the support you need to pinpoint the why-when-where. Resolving emotional eating isn’t very cut and simple and I believe for many, overcoming could require professional support. One way to begin peeling back the layers and learn where you might be struggling is to start a food diary where you can see your eating emotional connection. Pinpoint your go-to comfort food because according to NIMH sweets, and other high carbohydrates foods are the most reported cravings. Whatever that food is, perhaps you can reduce temptation by keeping those out of sight and having healthier options visible. This is not about depriving yourself of the things you enjoy. Knowing that if you want that sweet you should have no guilt about it and reach for where it is. For all of us, eating balanced meals is indeed good self-care as this supports our total health.
I realize that because last winter was filled with uncertainty within a pandemic, any sense of the same news and experience feels like dread. But we are all highly adaptable and dynamic people capable of regenerating and evolving every day. We can move forward taking care of our mental, emotional, and physical health one step at a time. On the very bright side what is in our immediate view is the fall harvest. I could fully get behind that.
Happy Fall and enjoy the harvest.