Seasonal Affective Disorder SAD

How Are YOU Doing?

We live in a time where busy is the name of the game. You ask someone “how are you doing?” and they respond, “I’ve been ok, but business has picked up and lately we are just swamped and overwhelmed with phone calls and service jobs.” What is the blanket response we ALWAYS hear/give “oh, that’s so great!” or “that’s a good thing right? That business is going well and you’re busy?” When did it become the norm and not only socially acceptable but encouraged to be burnt out, have no free time whatsoever and to generally feel like you have nothing left in the tank to give at any given time? And we continue this pace to our detriment day after day, year after year. The complication comes though, when you throw things into the mix that shake up that carefully concocted groove that we have so carefully created and then insulated.

One of those “things” is winter. To everyone who experiences white winters that are between 3-6 months of the year, you understand (or know people who can relate to) the potential negative feelings and situations that can come with the beautiful fluffy white blanket that graces us with its presence every year.

Dealing with the winter blues is something that has plagued me every year since becoming an adult. It creeps up on us so subtly before realizing we are already in November, and then by February I’m eating my emotions, binge watching mediocre shows, feeling sorry for myself because I feel bloated and soft, wondering how did I get here. How do I always get here?

Can you relate? Is this something you struggle with too? Well you are not alone. As you can imagine, the farther north you live and the less VitD you get in the winter, the more likely you would be to struggle with SAD (seasonal affected disorder). Studies are showing that SAD affects about 10-15% of people struggling with depression each year.

You say, “Ya I already knew about this. But what do I do about it?” Over the past few years I have been working really hard at trying to maintain a consistent mood during the winter, less of a roller coaster of emotions. I have come up with 5 practical tips to help you get through the winter (if you’re someone else who struggles with this) without experiencing the mood swings and highs and lows of the winter:

Vitamin D

Start taking your vitamin D supplements in October BEFORE the cold winter and snow hit so it’s already in your system, and you don’t ever hit a deficit (which causes the lows).

Get Outside. Walk.

Make it a practice to try and get outside for a walk as much as possible, I shoot for 3-5 times a week. If possible, find a walk buddy of the human or fluffy variety, to help keep you accountable (also having fluffies along for the walk is ALWAYS more fun). And invest in good winter gear (this doesn’t mean expensive. It just means getting a warm face covering, a toque, a long winter coat that blocks the wind, gloves, boots and layer up the pants)

Get Good Sleep.

Make sure you are not staying up late and sleeping in (or perhaps getting up early for work). This will create a rut that is tough to get out of and will leave you feeling groggy and tired.

Put Down the Technology.

This is an especially tough one, because our technology is becoming our work, our entertainment, our social, our security blanket, etc. Putting down the screens is becoming more important and practicing healthy boundaries with the devices to ensure our quality time is not divided. Devices and screens stimulate your brain, making it hard for you to wind down and prepare for sleep, creating restless sleep (shutting down devices an hour minimum before bed is a great practice and pick up a book, or journal). Scrolling mindlessly on social media creates anxiety around societal expectations that we get bombarded with day to day, hour by hour.  They can also cause jealousy, competition and fear due to overwhelm and stimulation over things we can’t necessarily control. This all makes your brain kick into high gear, winding it up, making sleep very difficult if not impossible and you wake up exhausted.

Eat for success.

Do you know that food can HUGELY affect your mood/energy? If you already know this, making the effort to stick to whole food/nutritionally rich options especially over the winter months can drastically help you maintain a positive mindset and mood. Processed foods (dairy/gluten/sugar) are digested and go through your body differently. Gluten (flour) products specifically are like spackle on your digestive track. Because your body doesn’t recognize gluten as nutritious, it therefore doesn’t know what to do with it. It will tuck the gluten away, off to the side, and deal with it later, and will continue sending the “hungry” alerts to your brain to keep eating, in hopes that you’ll give it something that it recognizes. The processed foods are very hard for your system to digest because there’s little fibre, little recognizable nutrition and it sticks to the sides of the digestive track. As a result, this makes your body very fatigued at having to work so hard to digest it, which is why we feel lethargic and like we could sleep at any given time during the day, even though we got 8-9 hrs of sleep the night before. When we feel so sluggish, our body sends out alerts in the form of an SOS, that we need fuel quickly. This is when we get massive cravings for carbs, pizza, chocolate, fries, etc and so the cycle goes. Fuelling your body and brain with whole foods full of nutrition helps keep your mood stable, helps you stay alert and highly functional, therefore giving you the alertness you need to make good choices like staying active, because you aren’t running on fumes, getting fresh air and being productive.

Choose the Positive Cycle

Do you find yourself in this negative cycle when it comes to winter, exhaustion and inconsistent mood swings? If the norm for you is this picture of a self-sabotaging cycle of eating badly, getting poor sleep and spending a lot of time staring at our screens maybe its time to choose something different. Instead of the negative cycle, choose the positive cycle of being intentional. Start taking supplements proactively, putting down your phones at a good time, getting good sleep, eating well, and getting fresh air by being active. Pay special attention this winter to the difference these little tweaks make on your general outlook and mental health. Letting life happen to you, and always feeling like you’re running to keep up can be exhausting, until you decide to be intentional and make a change by being proactive and purposeful. Make the choice to be in control of your life.

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