If you find yourself slipping into low mood, lacking energy, or feeling unmotivated and lethargic during autumn and winter season, you’re far from alone. What used to be called ‘the winter blues’ is now often diagnosed as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, and it affects millions of people around the world.
We can all find ourselves experiencing SAD at different points in life ( we will explain how/why below) but there are also factors and circumstances that can contribute to the presentation of SAD.
If you have a history of depression or immediate relatives who experience mood disorders you are more likely to be affected.
Furthermore, although we may associate autumn and winter with snuggly blankets, cosy jumpers, fireplaces, warm drinks and festivities, these might not be the easiest of months for people who have challenging relationship with their families, friends, or live abroad and far away from loved ones. Finally, for those who are experiencing grief after losing their loved one, this might be particularly difficult season.
SAD Symptoms include:
- Low mood
- Disinterest in hobbies and activities
- Craving carbs and subsequent weight gain
- Poor focus and concentration
- Intrusive thoughts
Circadian Rhythm Disruption
We, modern humans, rarely change our schedules to align with the seasons. Do you rise with the sun and go to sleep with the sun setting down? Unlikely. Some people’s bodies find it very hard to adjust to shorter daylight periods. Shorter daylight hours that we experience in autumn and winter can disrupt our circadian rhythm and change the levels of serotonin and melatonin in our bodies. These two hormones are crucial when it comes to mood and sleep regulation.
Serotonin reduces in winter due to lack of sunlight. Less sunlight means less vitamin D, which is essential to healthy serotonin levels. Lower levels of this ‘feel good’ hormone can leave some feeling low or even depressed. On the other hand, melatonin can increase in response to the lack of light, and higher levels of melatonin make us feel sleepy and lethargic.
When this happens people often do not feel like exercising, or going out and being social. In turn we may become less active, consequently feel less strong and even less resilient and more isolated, and so a vicious circle is created.
Make a conscious effort to move and get out of the house.
Yoga exercises and stretches promote relaxation and help maintain healthy sleep. Most people who suffer from SAD have a hard time sleeping at night and waking up in the morning. Keeping your body on a regular yoga practice and sleep schedule can help you get a better night’s sleep which deters symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.
Having quality time with friends and loved ones can really lift your spirits when the weather is cold and grey outside. Reach out to your local yoga community and friends. Plan fun activities to do, grab a cup of coffee, or coordinate going to a yoga class with your friends. Having some things to look forward to during the week will help tremendously!
Practice to boost the endorphins
Giving your body exercise and exposure to light during the winter months is one of the best ways you can combat SAD. Yoga practice is a great way to combat SAD by tapping into the mind-body connection. It is an incredible tool to reset the nervous system and help release tension and stress by increasing your serotonin levels. Serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline are three endorphins released during physical activity. These chemicals promote a sense of contentment and wellbeing in our bodies. Moving between yoga asana (postures) is a great way to help your body release these hormones.
Get yourself to a Hot Room
Exposure to infrared heat and saunas help with sleep, immune system and overall wellbeing. There is nothing like being in a hot room on a gray, cold day, and allowing your mind and body to relax, experiencing that sunny-day-on-a-summer-beach feeling. Momentary joy!