Are you SAD?

SAD? This stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder, a condition that affects more and more of us as we age.

Do you notice a shift in your mood as winter approaches? Do you tend to feel depressed, tired, lethargic, uninspired, nervous, and basically SAD in the colder, darker months? These feelings often go hand in hand with weight gain, increased alcohol and drug use, physical illness, and increased stress.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is no fun at all. But there are ways to combat those feelings of depression and anxiety during the winter without turning to drugs, alcohol, and junk food.

The problem is the lack of natural light. One solution is to increase the amount of daily sunlight you receive. The best source is, of course, the sun. Getting outside for as much time as possible will help to increase your vitamin D and boost your mood. Ideally, you should be getting at least 2 hours of sunshine daily. If this is not possible, just get as much as you can, aiming for 30 minutes per day at least. You can then supplement the outdoor light with more and better indoor light.

The second best way to add light to your winter days is by using full spectrum light bulbs and/or a light box inside your home and/or office. These special bulbs mimic the rays of the sun and can help lift your mood. Since they are less effective than the actual thing, you might need as much as 6 hours per day in front of the bulbs. You can use the bulbs anywhere in your home. A lightbox can be placed wherever you tend to sit and work: on your desk, your kitchen table, the countertop, etc.

There are other ways to help reduce those feelings of SAD, in addition to getting more natural light. Diet plays an enormous role in mood. When light levels are low, we tend to crave more junk food--especially sugary, fatty, high calorie foods. If we were bears, putting on a lot of weight and then hibernating all winter might make sense. But most of us are never going to fast for months at a time in order to lose the weight. Better not to gain it in the first place!

Although sugar is typically what we crave, sweetened junkfood does our bodies and brains no good. In fact, sugar causes inflammation in the body, in addition to mood swings and additional cravings. Instead of using sugar to medicate your mood, try reducing refined carbs while eating more protein and healthy fats. High quality protein and fats help to satisfy the appetite for longer, reducing cravings for sugar, and help the body build and repair muscle. When adding carbs to your diet, look for whole foods containing plenty of fiber and nutrients. Good carbs include sweet potatoes, berries, whole milk yogurt, apples, pears, sprouted wheat bread, whole grains, lentils, and beans.

Along with a healthy diet, you might consider adding some supplements during the winter. Since the sun is our best source of Vitamin D, it's very common to become deficient during the winter. Your doctor can test your Vitamin D level and recommend a dosage. A basic multi-vitamin might be a good bet to help you cover all your nutritional bases. To assist with falling asleep and staying asleep, I take melatonin, magnesium, 5HTP, and theanine before bed. These are all natural substances found in most supermarkets and whole food stores.

Last, but far from least, EXERCISE! Exercise is a fabulous mood elevator. Although it seems counter-intuitive, exercise actually gives you MORE energy instead of depleting your energy. (As long you don't overtrain!) Exercise lowers your stress hormones while boosting your feel-good hormones. You might feel more like lazing around like a couch potato during the winter, but I guarantee you will feel MUCH better after exercising. Put on your warm clothes and go for a hike, or a walk, or a run. Sign up for an indoor class or join a club. Get together with your friends and go out dancing. Move your body to lift your spirit!

And if you feel you need something more than these suggestions, please get help. Seasonal affective disorder can be seriously debilitating. Don't suffer alone.