It's that time of the year again: Christmas is around the corner, and most of us are feeling the festive spirit kicking in. Jolly classic anthems, streets of magical window displays, shopping, shopping and more shopping; we're counting down the days already.
There is a slight downside to this time of year, however. Have you ever found yourself feeling sluggish and lethargic, with low levels of energy, mild depression and little motivation during the cold season? Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also referred to as the “winter blues,” is in season.
There is insufficient evidence as to why this seasonal sadness affects so many people, but researchers have deduced that there's a strong chance it has to do with a disruption in our circadian rhythms.
Our bodies' internal clocks regulate many important bodily functions, including energy, sleep, digestion, appetite and mood.
Since there are shorter daylight hours during the winter, many people will go to work and come home from work in the dark with hardly any exposure to natural sunlight throughout the day.
Our circadian rhythms can be disrupted and not receive the correct signals at the appropriate time.
Insufficient levels of morning light will lead to a lack of hormones required to naturally wake us up. In the evenings, we can feel more awake, which can result in confusing sleep patterns, suboptimal hormone production and a vicious cycle.
A combination of seasonal light changes, more periods of poor weather and darker days, piled on top of our chaotic lifestyles, can result in dramatic effects on our health and wellbeing.
Here are 10 practical steps to improve symptoms of SAD:
1. Let There Be Light
Over the years, we've spent less and less time outdoors. It gets worst around this season because of the cold weather.
When the sun finally appears, take a break outside to absorb the natural rays for a dose of Vitamin D.
2. Light And Airy Environment
Being aware of your environment and making small changes can improve your mood throughout the day. Sitting next to the window when you're indoors is a way to soak up fresh air and work from dawn to dusk.
Although there's still insufficient evidence to support long-term benefits, light therapy is another option, if necessary.
3. Power Through Exercising
Stimulating our muscles, heart rates and getting a good sweat can get us fit but also benefit our mental states. Exercising helps to release the "feel good" chemicals in our brains that leave us in positive frames of mind. Team sports and activities are also effective for lifting our moods.
4. Eat A Healthy, Balanced Diet
Consistently providing your body with what it needs and having a good relationship with food is important for health.
There's nothing wrong with enjoying some comfort food as part of a balanced diet, but avoid binge-eating and excessive drinking.
5. Family And Friends
Seasonal depression can make you feel very isolated. Negative thoughts will likely pop up daily, so it's important to keep your loved ones aware of what you're going through.
For some, this may be a challenge, but having a support system during dark times is better than going at it alone. Who brightens up your mood?
Since it gets dark early, it's tempting to hit the snooze button or even jump into bed when problems occur. A bit of planning, efficient time management and a pre-bed routine will set you up for a better night of sleep.
It may require self-discipline, but aiming for seven to eight hours every night will keep your sleep patterns in check.
A short afternoon nap can re-energize you, but refrain from over-sleeping.
7. Embrace Over Dread
Whether we like it or not, this happens every year, so don't run from the problem. Go out and explore different winter sports and activities or even follow the sun and visit another country.
Keep your spirits high by enjoying the fun aspects of winter. Did you know being in a cold environment helps you burn more calories? Yet another reason to stay positive.
Don't overwhelm yourself. Make small improvements every day and allow rewards, like a weekend trip away, a visit to the cinema, dining out with friends or buying yourself a new pair of trainers for your outdoor adventures.
Having something to which you can look forward can keep you motivated.
It may sound like a cliché to appreciate what you have, but it's true. In a world full of expectations, it's easy to always want more and neglect being present.
Grab a pen and notepad and make a gratitude list before you go to bed. Wake up in the morning, read through it and feel free to add more. Start making a collection and be more mindful.
10. Start Now
Act on your resolutions now; start working toward a goal. Accomplishments are a fantastic way to boost your mood.
Want to pack on muscles? Melt the stubborn body fat before the Christmas party? Run a marathon? Set some realistic goals and start taking action to limit unnecessary negative thoughts. Also, you'll be ahead of the "new year, new you" bandwagon.
DISCLAIMER: It is always important to consult your doctor if you believe you have severe SAD, as it may be indicative another, more serious condition.